This morning in London Mr Justice Birss will listen to a case in Court 11 at the Royal Courts of Justice, to decide whether or not to put Lotus F1 Team Ltd into administration. The case, between the team and the Commissioners for HMRC (the British tax authorities) will either lead to an administration order or to a stay of a week or so if someone turns up offering money to solve the problems.
Renault is poised to try to take over the team, but they do not appear to have the cash to do it – buying F1 teams is not considered such a smart idea by big publicly-owned car companies, with advisory boards and institutional investors, and I am hearing that the plan to use historical payments from the Formula One group to fund the takeover may have fallen apart over the Monza weekend. There is still a chance that money might come from Red Bull as it continues to try to get out of its 2016 Renault deals, but that would take weeks to sort out.
The word in Monza was that CVC Capital Partners, which owns the Formula One group, does not want to meet the requests/demands of Renault in the matter of historical payments. This is a problem because we have a number of celebrated hardball players all playing super hardball together.
This situation has arisen because there is no official scale of how these payments work, and from what we can gather from the outside they are negotiated individually. Ferrari gets a shed-load of money, but several other teams managed to get themselves a slice of the pie and CVC is now getting tired of more and more people holding out their hands and expecting money. They only have themselves to blame because they have allowed F1 to get into this state. They don’t want to move because it is affecting their take. We should not weep for them because they have taken plenty, but it seems that Renault’s attitude is fairly robust. If the French don’t get what they consider to be a fair share from the pot then they may be stamping their feet and saying they will walk away. That is the negotiating position anyway. Would they really do that? Hmmm… I’m not sure it would be good for Carlos Ghosn to tell the Renault board that half a billion in research and development into F1 has been wasted, but Ghosn is no shrinking violet when it comes to negotiations.
What is key for the real people of F1 is that the folk at Enstone should be treated fairly and not be left in the dark about their futures. If the team gets into administration things will be complicated to sort out, but it is not the end of the road, unless the team is deemed to have been insolvent at any point. The definition of that is complicated, as was seen last winter with Marussia.
We may hear more later.