In about the biggest conflict of interest the sporting world could produce, the Renault Formula One team hired the person who oversaw all of F1’s technical development up until last month. That means he knows the confidential stuff other teams are planning, which is, uh, not good.
Renault F1 confirmed the deal Friday, with Autosport reporting that Marcin Budkowski would be the team’s executive director. Budkowski left his role as head of the F1 technical department at the FIA, the sport’s governing body, at the end of September. There, Autosport reports that he had access to teams’ innovations, and knowledge of current and future car designs.
Budkowski will be in charge of development and production of the Renault F1 chassis, and other teams are not at all happy about him taking the role.
What makes this kind of thing particularly bad in F1 is that teams heavily depend on their own developments to the car to perform well—hence why teams as a whole tend to dominate rather than drivers. There’s far more developmental freedom in F1 than in a lot of other series, and knowing what other teams plan to do next is a huge advantage. From Autosport:
[Budkowski’s] departure led to concern from F1 teams as his role gave him extensive access to privileged technical information from teams and engine suppliers, including their future ideas.
It then emerged that Budkowksi was likely to head to Renault, and F1's top six teams wrote to the FIA and F1 chief executive officer Chase Carey to raise their concerns. ...
Team boss Cyril Abiteboul said Budkowksi’s signing was part of Renault’s continued rebuilding process.
Budkowski isn’t allowed to begin other employment for three months after leaving the FIA, according to Reuters. But since he knows details of teams’ secret innovations and future projects, Reuters reports that other teams feel like that’s too short of a break before working for a competitor.
Under pressure—and anger—from other teams, Renault may just delay Budkowski’s start date past that three-month barring. From Reuters:
“I believe that we are close to reaching an agreement on the start date that would make everyone be comfortable,” Cyril Abiteboul, managing director of the Formula One team’s parent Renault Sport Racing division, told reporters.
“I think that the date of early April, which is basically twice his gardening provision has been discussed.
“Nothing has been confirmed yet but that is something that we are completely prepared to entertain.”
Reuters reports that Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said industry standard for this sort of employment hiatus is six months to more than a year, but Abiteboul argued a start date in April would mean his current knowledge of other teams’ plans wouldn’t have that big of an effect—especially when it comes to the race car.
The season starts at the end of March, which means he’d join after at least one event had been run. From Reuters:
Abiteboul said an April 2018 start for Budkowski would mean he would be joining too late to have an influence on next season’s car, with the design already locked in.
“… Because of the obsolescence of information in Formula One, it’s not going to make a huge difference,” said Abiteboul.
“We have taken that person because he has the skills, he has the experience of Formula One… it’s not for what he knows today.”
Sure, something like that. Sounds legit.