For a discussion about a ‘gentleman’s agreement’, there was a surprising majority of men profusely disagreeing with each other in the Team Principal press conference on Friday.
Red Bull’s Christian Horner and Ferrari’s Maurizio Arrivabene couldn’t compromise over the conversation surrounding the appointment of former FIA safety chief and deputy race director Laurent Mekies to Ferrari. He will work in a technical capacity for the team after at least six months of gardening leave.
Last year, former FIA technical head Marcin Budkowski’s move to Renault caused controversy and teams supposedly met to discuss the framework surrounding ex-FIA personnel moving to active teams. Although it is a work in progress, there was supposedly a pre-finalised agreement in place and that’s what’s causing the controversy surrounding Mekies, as Horner revealed.
“For me it is a big deal because the disappointing element about this is that we have a thing called the Strategy Group where the FIA, FOM and all team principals attend and we discussed the Marcin issue where there was great unrest about a key member of the FIA going to a team – in [that] case it was Renault.
“Renault diluted that by putting him on an extended gardening leave but then ensued a conversation about it being unacceptable – every team found it unacceptable. Of course you are dealing with employment laws across different states and different countries and to try to police legally something like that, it was agreed in the room that all the lawyers in the world couldn’t come up with a contract to police it.
“But there was an understanding and a clear statement by the teams 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 FIA/FOM to a team or from a team to vice-versa.”
Arrivabene’s response indicated that no collective agreement has been finalised. His response does make it sound like there was an unofficial agreement in place before the lawyers sweep in with a verdict.
“Yes, because we gave a mandate to the FIA – to the lawyers of the FIA – to check national law and come back to us at the next Strategy Group. This is what the FIA is going to do at the next strategy group, which is on the 17th of April.”
Horner then hit back by stating that in the meetings, it was none other than Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne calling for an even longer gardening leave period of three years for transitions of this nature. This fallout is an example of what can happen when the rules are murky and interpretive.
Sitting between Horner and Marchionne was Toto Wolff, who summed up the exchange:
“First of all, I didn’t see any gentlemen in the room when we discussed it. 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 a 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.”
The bosses of the ‘big three’ teams left the press conference in disagreement. Ferrari’s appointment of the ex-FIA man at a time in which broader talks on moves of this nature are still undefined could be seen as provocative. It gives Horner the license to criticise, the unspoken fear seems to be the new Ferrari employee offering intel on other teams.