The Mercedes-Benz F1 operation is taking legal action against one of its own engineers, who was planning to join Ferrari in 2016. Ben Hoyle was due to move to Ferrari when his Mercedes contract expires at the end of 2015. However, Mercedes is now seeking to stop him working at Ferrari until the end of 2016 because, it says, he has had access to data that will have given Ferrari an advantage if the Italian team had access to it. This is clearly a complicated story.
Hoyle joined Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains in Brixworth in May 2012, after spending two and a half years as a calibration engineer at nearby Cosworth, working on its F1 engines in 2010 and 2011. Prior to that he was employed at Pi Research after beginning his motorsport career with the Prodrive-run Subaru World Rally Team.
His role at Mercedes was “Performance Application Team Leader”, an important role that involved applying lessons learned from racing to develop new engine management strategies and calibrations. The performance of the current generation of F1 engines is largely dependent on engine management strategies as there are so many different ways in which the power can be managed with the ICE, the turbocharger, the MGUK and MGUH units and the Energy Store. It is clear that Ferrari reacted very quickly when it realised that its engines were not as competitive as hoped, early in 2014 when the new formula began. Hoyle informed Mercedes in May 2014 that he would be leaving when his contract expired at the end of 2015. As a result of this, he was reassigned to a different department at Mercedes in April this year, working on DTM activities. He was then denied all further access to F1 material and his access to F1 areas was similarly denied. Mercedes claims that Hoyle then gained access to and saved sensitive files that included a report from the 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix, plus mileage and damage data, in addition to files containing the code required to decrypt the data. Mercedes also says that Hoyle removed documents containing confidential F1 information “after employing expert forensic computer analysts” and searched for and saved information stored on HPP’s servers, including very detailed data about engine performance. Mercedes claims that this was saved on various different devices.
The company also claims that Hoyle took a series of measures to hide the data he had saved including filling up his disk in order to overwrite deleted material. Mercedes says that this is a defensive step and not in any way an attack on any other team.
The company is demanding that all documents be returned and that its legal bills be paid by Hoyle. It has also applied for a ruling that would stop Hoyle from working for Ferrari until the end of 2016. Whether this develops into a bigger story remains to be seen. The request for a delay in Hoyle’s employment suggests that Mercedes knows how important he is and wants Ferrari not to have access to him for another year… It remains to seen whether a judge will agree to such a penalty.