Thursday March 1st, 2001
World racing champion Michael Schumacher was ordered by a Belgian court on Thursday to wear a sponsor's crash helmet or pay millions of dollars in damages.
Sports Europe, a Belgium-based distributor of Bell Helmets, was granted an injunction forcing Schumacher to stop appearing in a rival firm's helmet that the German racer claims is safer.
The company, Schumacher's regular helmet supplier, had turned to the court after Schumacher was seen at Formula One trials in Barcelona last month wearing a helmet of rival German brand, Schuberth Helme.
Sports Europe said this broke an exclusive deal signed by Schumacher to wear their helmets until the end of this year.
In Thursday's ruling, Judge Christine Dalcq ordered Schumacher to use the Bell helmet in training and for Sunday's Melbourne Grand Prix.
Failure to do so would make him liable to pay damages to Sports Europe of five million Belgian francs ($114,000) for every day he did not.
"We're very pleased with the decision. Sports Europe has been thoroughly vindicated," Daniel Spreutels, the lawyer representing the company, told Reuters.
"It's now very much up to Schumacher. Either he wears the helmet or he pays up."
Joelle Prosman, acting for Schumacher, declined to say if the racing champion would wear the helmet.
In court on Wednesday, she had said the contract between Schumacher and Sports Europe was dead and that he would not wear the Bell helmet.
Lawyers for Schumacher, who is in Australia preparing for Sunday's race, have said he had chosen to use a rival crash helmet because it was safer.
Commercial considerations could not be enough to force him to put his security at risk by using equipment he no longer felt comfortable with, they had argued.