By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
The 2018 Formula 1 season just got underway with the first practice of the year and we already have a clash on our hands between Ferrari and Red Bull Racing.
The head-to-head battle came between the team principals of both squads during Friday’s FIA press conference, with the focal point being the Italian squad’s hiring of FIA safety delegate Laurent Mekies.
The situation under scrutiny comes on the heels of Renault’s move to bring on former FIA Technical Director, Marcin Budkowski late last year – though he will serve a “gardening leave” for six months before joining the team.
With Ferrari following in a similar path with Mekies, who will also serve a six month leave, Maurizio Arrivabene, Team Principal, gave his perspective of the gentleman’s agreement that was believed to have been broken.
“First of all there was nothing wrong, we were respecting absolutely the local law, the Swiss local law, where Laurent was hired,” said Arrivabene. “And afterwards we went even further, to have six months of gardening leave.
“I heard comments related to a supposed or so-called gentleman’s agreement. A gentleman’s agreement under labour law is illegal. I thought that they were just comments, no more than that, I hope.”
Christian Horner, Team Principal at Red Bull Racing, combated the argument with his own perspective that the expectation was that the leave was expected to be over a 12 month period.
“For me it is a big deal,” said Horner. “I think the disappointing element about this is we have a thing called the Strategy Group, where the FIA, FOM and all team principals attended.
“We discussed the Marcin issue where there was great unrest about a key member of the FIA going to a team, which in this case was Renault.
“Renault diluted that by putting him on an extended gardening leave. But then ensued a conversation about it’s unacceptable, every team found it unacceptable.
“There was an understanding, and a clear statement by the teams to stay to say, ‘Right, let’s have a clear position that there should be at least a period of 12 months in the garden for a member of a team going from either FOM or FIA to a team or vice versa.’
“Certain teams were pushing for that period to be three years. But in the end it was agreed upon being 12 months.”
The Red Bull boss added that part of his dismay was that he felt the meetings are now meaningless because of Ferrari’s actions.
“What’s disappointing is that that meeting was less than six weeks ago,” said Horner. “Arguably, discussions were probably happening at that time.
“It also makes those meetings pointless, if we can’t agree on something and action it. Of course, you can hide behind, ‘It’s not in the regulations,’ but as a group we agreed something, it hasn’t been adhered to, and one questions what’s the point of having those meetings.
“I think what’s most disappointing about it is that it was Ferrari or Sergio [Marchionne] that was pushing for a three-year period. So on the one hand you get a team pushing for a three-year gestation, and a few weeks later, we’re in this situation.
“So as I say, it makes discussions in the forum more or less a waste of time.”
For Toto Wolff, Team Principal of Mercedes, he was the man in the middle and did his best to stay clear of the path when approached on the subject.
“First of all, I didn’t see any gentlemen in the room when we discussed it,” said Wolff.
“Second, it’s completely different to Marcin. They are both intelligent engineers, but Marcin was involved in issuing technical directives just a few weeks before he decided to join a team and had a lot of inside [knowledge], and Laurent was involved in totally different activities that are not as sensitive, in my opinion, as with Marcin’s.
“He is joining the team in seven or eight months from now and for me it is not a big deal.”