It’s a good idea to know when you’re beaten, but that logic doesn’t seem to apply to the top brass at Force India, who have now got to cough up £650,000 in compensatory legal costs to the defendants in its copyright claim against Aerolab and the Caterham F1 team.
The case concerns work by Italian windtunnel operator Aerolab to help Team Lotus (as it was then known) design its 2010 challenger, the T127.
Aerolab has previously worked on the design of Force India’s
not very quick 2009 car, the VJM02, but Aerolab terminated its services when Force India didn’t pay its bills. That in itself was not unexpected, as the Silverstone team has one of the worst reputations in pit lane at paying on-time.
While Aerolab took up a new contract to work with Team Lotus, it also launched legal proceedings against Force India to recover the money it was owed.
In February 2010, the case officially began at London’s High Court, while Force India opted to countersue Aerolab, claiming “misuse of confidential information relating to the design of a wind tunnel model as well as claims for infringement of copyright” – in other words, that Aerolab had used elements of the VJM02 design to assist with the design of the T127.
Aerolab owner, former Ferrari designer Jean-Claude Migeot, argued from the outset that Force India’s claim was nothing more than a smokescreen by them to reduce the size of the bill that they owed him.
The presiding judge, Mr Justice Arnold, ruled in Aerolab’s favour and instructed Force India to pay its outstanding bill of £708,000.
However, he did also rule that Aerolab had in fact used some Force India VJM02 CAD files and copied them across to the T127 pre-design. But this, in the judge’s ruling “does not necessarily mean that the aerodynamicist who specified the design copied any of the geometry from the pre-existing CAD file” or that Aerolab had systemically copied the VJM02 design to the T127, as Force India was trying to claim.
He also ruled that Caterham/Lotus was not liable for this breach, and neither was its technical director Mike Gascoyne, who was also sued by Force India. The blood bad between Gascoyne and Force India goes way back, with the Englishman splitting acrimoniously with the team in late 2008 after a falling out with the team’s flamboyant owner, Vijay Mallya.
On Force India’s suit – to which it applied a laughably ambitious £13 million damages claim – the judge awarded a paltry £21,000.
Despite the judge having clearly ruled in Aerolab’s favour, all side trumpeted victory and Force India tried to stir the pot further by inciting the FIA to get involved in what it felt was a matter or similar seriousness to the McLaren ‘Spygate’ affair of 2007. The FIA ignored the demands for investigation, again indicating that it does not share Force India’s concerns.
Force India also tried to wriggle out of the legal costs claim by arguing that court costs should be paid by the relevant parties in the suit.
The judge rejected that claim as well, ruling that Force India will need to pay a further £650,000 in legal fees to 1 Malaysia Racing (the licensee of the Caterham F1 team) and Mike Gascoyne, pending a final assessment of their legal costs.
On top of its fees it will have to pay to its own lawyers, Force India will shell out almost £2 million in unpaid bills and damages – all for the privilege of a meagre £20,000 awarded to it in return.
Given the financial mire that Force India’s owners are in, this is hardly a sensible use of the team’s limited funds.