Ferrari’s hiring of the FIA’s Laurent Mekies led to Maurizio Arrivabene and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner clashing during a press conference at the Australian Grand Prix.
Following Marcin Budkowski’s move to Renault from the FIA – announced late last year – teams have been in discussions about ways of protecting against a repeat as employment laws limit the “gardening leave” period to a maximum of three months. Renault agreed to extend Budkowski’s leave to a six-month period, but a number of teams were keen to extend that to at least a year in future.
With Ferrari then announcing the hire of the FIA’s deputy race director Mekies last week – again on six months’ leave – further discontent was voiced by many teams who felt a gentleman’s agreement of a longer period had been broken.
“First of all, there is nothing wrong with that,” Arrivabene said of the appointment. “We were respecting absolutely local law, the Swiss local law, where Laurent was hired. Afterwards we went even further than that because we gave him six months of gardening leave. However, having said that, what we have discussed before [in the Strategy Group] is that we have signed a confidentiality agreement that means we are not allowed to share in public what we discuss there.
“Having said so, I heard comments related to a supposed or so-called ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ and I think they are comments because a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ on the labor law is illegal. I thought they were comments, just comments and no more than that. I hope.”
Arrivabene was speaking alongside Toto Wolff and Horner during a team principal’s press conference in Melbourne, and while Wolff says the less technical nature of Mekies’ role makes it “not a big deal” compared to the Budkowski move, the Red Bull boss was much more concerned.
“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 which case it was Renault,” Horner said. “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 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 contact 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-a-versa.
“Certain teams were pushing for that period to be three years, but in the end it was agreed upon being 12 months. What’s disappointing is that that meeting was less than six weeks ago, arguably discussions were probably happening at that time, which makes those meetings pointless if we can’t agree on something and action it.
“Of course, you can hide behind saying that it’s not in the regulations but as a group we agreed something, it hasn’t been adhered to so the question is, what is the point of having those meetings?”
With Arrivabene shaking his head during Horner’s response, when asked if he’d like to comment further the Italian replied: “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 went further and named Ferrari as the driving force behind a longer period of gardening leave during earlier meetings.
“I think what’s most disappointing about it is that it was Ferrari, or Sergio [Marchionne], who was pushing for a three-year period,” Horner added. “On one had you get a team pushing for a three-year gestation and then a few weeks later we are in this situation. It makes discussions in that forum a waste of time.”