By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – McLaren took issue with Ferrari and Formula One’s governing body on Thursday after the Italian team hired a top technical official from the FIA.
The International Automobile Federation and Ferrari had announced on Wednesday that Laurent Mekies, the FIA’s deputy race director and head of safety, was moving to Maranello in September.
Mekies is the second high-profile FIA official to join a team over the past year, with Marcin Budkowski moving to Renault after resigning in September as technical head.
That move triggered criticism from rival teams at the time who said it was unacceptable for someone with access to secret information to begin employment with a competitor after such a short hiatus.
“We are very unhappy with the FIA for losing yet another key employee to a racing team,” McLaren racing director Eric Boullier told the motorsport.com website on Thursday.
“Especially after it was agreed by all teams at the last Strategy Group meeting that no key technical FIA employees would be employed by a race team within 12 months of leaving the FIA.
“Ferrari went against the gentleman’s agreement, and the FIA has not enforced it.”
McLaren, whose executive director Zak Brown is also non-executive chairman of the Motorsport Network that includes motorsport.com, confirmed Boullier’s quotes were accurate. There was no immediate comment from Ferrari or the FIA.
The governing body said on Wednesday that Mekies had stepped down from his race director role and would immediately cease all Formula One duties. He will leave the Paris-based FIA at the end of June.
It is normal practice in Formula One for teams to put key employees on ‘gardening leave’ for a period after handing in their notice.
The length of time varies, however, according to individual contracts and employment law.
The practicality of any such ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between teams, in a fiercely competitive sport whose bosses used to be referred to as ‘The Piranha Club’, was questioned by some insiders.
“One would have thought that after all these years F1 people would know that a gentlemen’s agreement in F1 is as worthless as a chocolate fireguard,” wrote Formula One journalist Joe Saward in a blog.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)