Thursday June 7th, 2001
A legal battle between Jaguar and McLaren over top Formula One designer Adrian Newey could rumble on for months, Jaguar boss Bobby Rahal said on Thursday. Rahal, who announced last week that the McLaren technical director would join Jaguar in 2002 only for Newey to rule out the move a few hours later, also made clear how let down he felt by his friend's change of mind.
And he used words, spoken by McLaren boss Ron Dennis in Austria last month at a meeting of team principals, to telling effect in supporting his own point of view and undermining his rival's position. Speaking at a news conference ahead of Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix, Rahal produced a piece of paper from a meeting at Spielberg discussing Toyota's swoop for Minardi technical director Gustav Brunner.
"There's an interesting quote here from Ron," he said. "'It does not matter how big a company is or whether it is an employer or an employee, when you enter into a contract agreement or an agreement that is effectively a contract, they should honour it unless the parties agree to end it or change it'. That's from Ron and I really couldn't agree more with that."
Jaguar insist that Newey signed a legally binding contract with them and Rahal said their legal team were pursuing all options available to them.
"I guess we haven't really seen the end of this thing for some time so stay tuned," he said, adding that Newey's current contract with McLaren did not expire until the end of July 2002 and a lot could change before then. "We'll see what happens over the course of the next several probably months frankly."
Rahal was backed up by British American Racing (BAR) boss Craig Pollock, sitting alongside him.
"I can remember actually Ron saying these words. I think you should respect contracts," he said. "I think if you sign the documents it should be respected all the way through. As an employer, I'd expect my employees to do that."
Rahal worked with Newey in CART racing in the United States, winning the Indy 500 with him in 1986, and counted him as a personal friend as well as future colleague.
Newey had said in a statement last week that the prospect of working with Rahal again coupled with the challenge of helping Jaguar win races had 'proved irresistible'. Rahal said on Thursday that he had been talking to him about a move almost since he arrived at Jaguar late last year.
"I think that friendship is always based on trust and good faith and obviously I personally feel that both have been severely damaged in this situation," said the American. "But it's not being a jilted lover or anything like that, this is not an emotional thing. I'm a big boy, and life has all these kinds of things, ups and downs.
"Sure its a disappointment from a personal sense but that's just part of life and you go on."
The situation took another twist on Thursday with a report in Britain's Autosport magazine that Newey could quit Formula One altogether. It quoted sources as saying that Briton Newey could design the team's 2002 and 2003 cars before pursuing other projects, including designing an America's Cup yacht.
McLaren driver David Coulthard, second in the championship at present, was determined to stay focused on Sunday's race and stay out of the Newey debate.
"I think that as a driver you look at the whole package, the engine, the tyres, the budget the team has - it's a whole host of things. If you look at all those factors you don't have to be a brain surgeon to work out there's a couple of teams that are in a better position than the others.
"But it's not something that is on my mind at the moment. I'm sitting back and enjoying the soap opera that you've all created. And we'll see what the outcome is at the end."