It’s finally over. The High Court of Justice lawsuit hearing between Force India, Aerolab, Mike Gascoyne and the Caterham F1 team has been settled, with the judge ruling that the Silverstone-based team had not been able to prove that Aerolab had been party to copying designs of Force India’s 2010 challenger.
Aerolab, a windtunnel and design contractor in Italy headed by former Ferrari designer Jean-Claude Migeot, had previously partnered with Force India until mid-2009 to assist the team in designing its VJM03 challenger.
Aerolab later tore up its agreement with Force India over unpaid fees and launched legal proceedings against the team; but days later, it took up a contract with the Caterham F1 team (then known as Lotus Racing) to help design its T127 competitor.
Force India then launched its own legal proceedings, claiming that Aerolab had systematically copied significant parts of its designs and passed them on to Lotus Racing.
Following a 14-day hearing in the Chancery Division of the London High Court – which included testimony from a number of expert witnesses, included noted designer Frank Dernie – Mr Justice Arnold awarded €850,000 to Aerolab over its unpaid fees lawsuit, and awarded Force India €25,000 in compensation in regard to use of its intellectual property rights.
“It has taken a long time but I am extremely happy and relieved to see 1Malaysia Racing Team [Caterham F1, then Team Lotus] and Mike Gascoyne cleared of any wrongdoing,” Jean-Claude Migeot said after the hearing.
“I have always felt that the case was only initiated by Force India as a means to delay payment for outstanding work. With the Court having now examined the often extremely technical aspects of the evidence and come to the decision it has, my viewpoint has not altered.”
But Justice Arnold had also ruled a small sum in Force India’s favour, after finding that Aerolab had ‘shortcutted’ by copying some of Force India’s CAD files when performing the initial work in designing the Lotus Racing T127.
“Such misuse as I have found to have occurred mainly consisted of opportunistic copying of CAD files by CAD designers in order to take a short cut,” he added in his ruling.
A separate hearing will be held to determine which parties will foot the legal bills associated with the trial. One suspects that Force India will bear the brunt of these expenses.
At the time of publication, Force India had just issued a press release indicating that the “judgement, in respect of the illegal copying, will now be referred for the consideration of Formula One’s governing body, the FIA, whilst the Italian criminal case against Mike Gascoyne, Tony Fernandes and Jean Claude Migeot remains ongoing.”
Its press release made no mention of the ruling against it for unpaid fees to Aerolab.
Meanwhile, more troubles continue to beset Force India owner Vijay Mallya, whose struggling Kingfisher Airlines is now facing the possibility of having its flying license cancelled by India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
The DGCA has also summoned Mallya to present a clear picture on the health of his airline, which has dramatically scaled back flights and sacked staff as its finances collapse. Mallya has been served a show-cause notice at the end of February to justify why its license should not be torn up.
The airline has not responded within the mandated two-week window, and it has failed to provide valid reasons as to the unannounced cancellations of a multitude of flights in recent months.
"The airline not only lacks aircraft, it also lacks funds for day-to-day operations. They are failing to meet their flight schedule causing inconvenience to the passengers," a senior official said.
"They have also they failed to pay salaries to their employees for the past four-five months," he added.
Sources also indicate that Kingfisher may quietly close its operations completely.
In the interim, Mallya has decided to close its overseas flights at the end of this week to minimise further losses
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