The Group Lotus press release of yesterday and some of the idiotic comments that have resulted from it, some of them deeply offensive, are rooted in the fact that I am a non-executive director of the Caterham Car Group Ltd. I make no secret of this involvement – in fact I am very proud of it. In the “Blog Rules” section of this blog it says very clearly (and has said for some time) that: “Joe works for publications all over the world. He occasionally writes material for promotional publications and from time to time acts as a consultant for companies involved in F1 – if asked to do so. The commentary, analysis and opinions expressed are not affected by these arrangements. If Joe considers there to be a conflict of interest he will stop such an activity.
“In the interests of full disclosure, Joe is a non-executive director of Caterham Cars Group Ltd. This is an advisory role in the company that oversees the road car business. Joe is not in any way involved in the operations or management of the F1 team. His involvement in the road car business will not influence his F1 reporting in any way.”
There are several key points that need to be made: firstly, Caterham Cars Group Ltd is not the Caterham holding company, which is called Caterham Ventures. It is one of the different divisions, alongside Caterham Technology, Caterham Hotels, the F1 team and so on. My involvement is related to the road cars and the strategy of other motorsport activities, such as karting and one-make activities. We have nothing to do with the F1 team. This is an advisory role and I have no involvement in the running of the company, and no influence in the Formula 1 team.
Why did I agree to such a thing? Well, when Tony Fernandes first appeared in F1 many of us were very impressed. He is an extraordinary individual. We have enjoyed a good relationship. I am always happy to help anyone who is trying to build or run a Formula 1 team if they are doing it in a sensible fashion. All too often in F1 new people come along and think they know all the answers and get upset when they are told that they are not doing things right. This is pointed out for the simple reason that people in the industry (and their families) are dependent on these individuals and I do not want to see teams closing down because they run into the ground by individuals who do know what they are doing.
In the past I have been asked my opinion on many things and I have made suggestions that have made some people enormous sums of money. I have never asked for anything in return. If I was corrupt and had been in F1 for 25 years without making a fortune I would be an idiot. I would have made a pile of money and would now be doing a job better-suited to those with more elastic morality. The worst judge I have is myself. I was brought up believing that honesty is the best policy and I still live by that rule.
Tony Fernandes wanted some experienced, independently-minded individuals with a bigger picture than average, with connections in the automotive and motorsport worlds, and he seemed to think that David Tremayne and I would be good people to help him with developing the Caterham car company. This was a great compliment. Tony is no fool and he is not going to try to influence our opinions. If we do not agree with him, we will tell him. We have made that very clear to him and he understands it fully.
There are many F1 journalists who work for teams, sponsors and other F1-related entities. The only unusual thing about this arrangement is that it is all above board and in the public domain.
The assumption that this means that I am corrupt is something that I find very sad and is, to my mind, more a reflection on the person having such thoughts, rather than on me. It is also irrational. Sir Martin Sorrell is a non-executive director (and shareholder) of the Formula One group and yet his companies represent many F1 sponsors and influence their opinions and strategies. Is that corrupt or a clash of interest? No, it is a reflection on his expertise that CVC Capital Partners wanted him to give them advice. My situation is no different to that.
When it comes to dealing with stories about Caterham and Lotus, it is vital that I do not avoid the subject. If I did then the directorship would be having an effect. I write about what I think is right and wrong. I may make mistakes, but I do not do it in a malicious way. Group Lotus has tried to portray me in another light in its press release. That in itself is a sign of the lack of discipline within that company.
If I am to be judged over Caterham Car Group Ltd I would prefer to be judged in a few years when the company has developed a little more. You can judge then whether the directors have done a good job or not. In the meantime I will go on offering the insight that I have gained in 25 years in F1, giving fans the opportunity to see how F1 really works and what is going on behind the headlines.
As regards the recent story about Group Lotus. I did not say anywhere that Dany Bahar had left the company. I did not say that production had been halted and I did not say that the company is in administration. How then can I be responsible for these rumours? What I did do was to examine the possible alternatives available to DRB-Hicom. That is all.
I will sort this out with Group Lotus and as far as the blog readers are concerned I ask simply that you judge me on what I write. People who get criticised by me are always going to try to justify themselves by trying to undermine me. I accept that. It is for me to prove that this is not the case. Those who read this blog on a regular basis already know that. If you prefer the Group Lotus version of the facts, that is your prerogative. For those who do not know, all I can suggest is that you keep reading what I write and find out if I am fair or not.