Throughout the weekend in Turkey there was a very quiet whisper in the F1 paddock about a serious incident that had taken place in a Shanghai nightclub on the Sunday night after the Chinese GP. The story remained under wraps because most of the F1 circus was busy leaving China that evening and knew nothing about it, and there were no reports at all in the Chinese media in the days that followed. The only whispers came from those who has witnessed the after-effects of the fight, rather than the fight itself. The teams involved say that the incident is a private matter. What we do know is that Force India driver Adrian Sutil and his pal Lewis Hamilton arrived at the M1NT Club and ended up in a private room with other F1 people, including Eric Lux, the number two to Gerard Lopez at Genii Capital, the apparent owners of the Renault F1 team. Beyond that there were lots of different stories and very few facts. Lux departed with blood streaming from a neck injury. I heard that Lux had had 24 stitches in his neck. Later I heard the figure 16. I heard that more than two people were involved and also that the fight involved just the two of them. I heard that it was self-defence. The one element of the story that remained the same was that the injury was caused by a broken champagne glass.
Hamilton was not involved and departed rapidly after the incident.
What few have yet mentioned is the question of alcohol. As normal sane people do not attack one another with broken champagne glasses, one can surmise that the chances are that whatever happened was fuelled with alcohol. Racing drivers rarely drink and thus are more susceptible than others to its effects. One can speculate endlessly. Given the delicacy of the situation and the paucity of facts, I felt it was best not to report the story as the scandalous nature of the claims could do Sutil considerable damage before any legal examination could be made of the whys and wherefores of the incident.
Sutil’s situation is delicate at best. His position at Force India has been somewhat under threat since the arrival of Nico Hulkenberg as the team’s third driver. The whisper is that the team wants to slide Hulkenberg in to replace the inconsistent Sutil as soon as possible, in order to try to sell engine supplier Mercedes Benz on the concept of Force India being used as a junior team, to train up drivers for Mercedes GP Petronas. Clearly the hiring of Paul di Resta was Mercedes-Benz related and Nico Hulkenberg is seen by many (although not by Williams, his previous employer) as being a German star of the future.
Michael Schumacher is 42 and things are not going well for him so the obvious replacement at Brackley would be di Resta, as he has done very well this year against the experienced Sutil.
Since the story began to break Sutil has come out with a quote saying that he he had hurt another person “completely unintentionally”. This is a most curious explanation as people do not generally stick broken wineglasses into the necks of others without meaning to do it. Sutil wants the whole thing to be forgotten and says that it is not directly related to his job as a Formula 1 driver. Perhaps not, but there is always the possibility that this was a serious crime and it could end up with him being sent to prison for something akin to what the British call grievous bodily harm. In that case, it would have an effect in F1 as he would not be available to race a car. It is thus a story that Formula 1 reporters must examine.
At the same time one has to ask what would have incited Sutil to do such a thing and thus Lux’s involvement needs also to be analysed, particularly as he does not appear to have gone to the Chinese authorities about the incident.
If there is no official action being taken by any authorities, it is down to the two individuals to sort out the problem in whatever way they think fit. The fact that the story is now in the public domain makes it a story that must be mentioned, although I am loathe to draw any conclusions.