Paper planes and playground games
Formula 1 has a habit of taking things to the courtroom. Over the past decade, there have been a number of high profile cases that have sent shockwaves through the sport, making or breaking entire seasons.
Back in 2005, BAR was handed a two-race ban for using fuel as ballast when the FIA took its own stewards to court; 2007 saw the infamous spygate scandal that resulted in McLaren getting chucked out of the constructors; 2009 was a dark year as the details about Renault’s rigging of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix came to light; Ferrari faced sanctions in the wake of the team orders debacle at Hockenheim in 2010, but kept its points; last year we had testgate that ended in quite the anti-climax after Mercedes flouted the rules on in-season testing.
And so to 2014: four races in, and we’ve already got two court cases on the table. Such fun.
Red Bull made an awful lot of noise about Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix, but it eventually ended in a court room defeat to the FIA. Surprisingly, it was a gracious defeat as the team held its hands up and said that it was time to move on from the matter.
However, Mr. Ali Malek – Red Bull’s lawyer in Paris – better not have planned holiday any time soon, as he’ll be back to work in a jiffy as the team goes head-to-head with McLaren over aerodynamicist Dan Fallows.
Fallows confirmed that he would be leaving Red Bull back in September in order to join McLaren. He was immediately placed on gardening leave, and eventually upped sticks to move to Woking. However, after starting work in March, he has now had a change of heart. Since signing the contract with McLaren, there have been some big changes – most notably the exit of Martin Whitmarsh as team principal.
So now the teams are on either side of Fallows. Red Bull are saying that as he’s changed his mind, and that the contract was signed under different circumstances. McLaren are saying that a deal is a deal, no backsies. It was signed with the team, not Whitmarsh.
And so ensued a war of words in the media between Christian Horner and Ron Dennis, the two team bosses. Both spoke with a number of media outlets and outlined their intentions in China, with Dennis suggesting that Horner should reach out and the two of them resolve the matter with an out of court settlement.
“We’re obviously not happy to be contracting people in a correct and professional way, only to find that those contracts are disregarded,” Ron said. “What I’m particularly uncomfortable with is that people just don’t change their minds, they’re induced to change their minds. People being induced to break contracts, it’s just wrong.”
The two were also captured on the FOM world feed on the grid sharing a word before the race. When asked, Horner simply said that Dennis was wishing him a happy easter.
It’s likely that it was more about Fallows and Prodromou than Flake and Peppa Pig easter eggs.
Prodromou? Peter Prodromou. He’s a whole ‘nother entity in all of this. He is one of Red Bull’s leading aerodynamicists, but wants to move to – er – McLaren. He has been placed on gardening leave, but now there is a wrangle over when he can actually make the move and start working for the team.
Paper planes and playground games. Such a minor part of Formula 1’s rich tapestry, but something that happens regularly.
It permeates into the entire political spectrum of the sport, including the media. There has been many a dispute or legal wrangle because of an article being plagiarised, a domain name being bought, or a few lies told. In the grand scheme of things, it’s far, far smaller, but again, playground games take place. No backsies! I’ll tell on you to ma’am!
This was even clear in the espionage scandal that took place in 2007. Nigel Stepney was found guilty of providing sensitive technical information about Ferrari’s F2007 car to Mike Coughlan, McLaren’s chief designer. As the case escalated, it resulted in McLaren being excluded from the 2007 constructors’ championship and a $100m fine, the largest in the history of the sport.
However, Dennis and company continued to push on with the rest of the season. At a press conference after the hearing, he was bullish: “We have the best drivers, and the best team… and we will win the championship.” Ultimately, both Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso lost out by a single point to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
This wasn’t just a war between the FIA and McLaren, though. It was a war between Max Mosley, the FIA president, and Ron Dennis.
Dennis certainly ruffled feathers during his first stint in Formula 1, and Mosley was one of his greatest adversaries. Mark Hughes of Motor Sport magazine provided some fascinating insight in the April issue. There is a famous picture of the two shaking hands at Spa just days after the verdict; it was Mosley’s idea, and a true humiliation for Dennis, who symbolically accepted the FIA’s omnipotence there.
Mosley then reportedly whispered in Dennis’ ear: “$1m is for the espionage, $99m is for being a c***!”
Paper planes and playground games. The court proceedings is the headline act at a gig, but there are many support acts. Is The Great Gatsby about a love triangle and a murder? Or is it about the hollowness of the American dream? The impurity and gargantuan nature of wealth and appearances? It depends how deep beneath the surface you want to go.
Even in the court room in Paris just over a week ago, Mercedes had a lawyer present who was pressing for a suspended three race ban to be lobbied against Red Bull for what they had done. Frankly, it was always a long shot.
Again though, it’s the games that are played. Just as Red Bull threw the kitchen sink, the boiler and the washing machine at Mercedes over the tyregate fiasco back in 2013, the German marque was looking to get its own back. Honours even in this one, but the retaliation was unsurprising.
A rule of thumb that I have when it comes to making decisions is one question: “How is this going to end up?” At the end of the road, are you going to be left standing in a Gatsby-esque suit and tie, a huge grin on your face and pockets full of cash? Or will you be down-trodded, penniless and broken?
So for Fallows and Prodromou – how is this going to end up?
Well, Prodromou wants to work for McLaren. Fallows wants to work for Red Bull. Red Bull want to get Fallows back. McLaren want Prodromou sharpish. Throw in a bit of money flowing from one side to the other, and that contract becomes worth the paper it is written on. Ultimately, Prodromou will work for McLaren, and Fallows will return to Red Bull.
However, you can expect a few more cheap shots and cleverly-commented interviews in the meantime from both sides of the fence.
Paper planes and playground games. The political spectrum of Formula 1 can be as complex as any biopic or novel, if not moreso.
Images courtesy of (in order) Wikimedia Commons, McLaren Mercedes and Octane Photographic.
Luke Smith is the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Richland F1. Having started the website in March 2012, he has gone on to become one of the youngest members of the Formula 1 paddock after joining American broadcaster NBC Sports at the beginning of the 2013 season. Luke now works as the network's lead F1 writer, supporting the TV coverage on nbcsports.com. Luke's work has also been featured on NBC News, Yahoo! Sports, The Times, The Independent and Forbes, and he has also appeared on CNBC's TV series "One Second in F1 Racing".