Robert Kubica's horrific accident on the recent Ronda di Andora Rally brought the question of drivers' extra-curricular activities sharply into focus for the twelve F1 teams currently preparing for the 2011 season, but should they seek to limit what their charges do away from the track?
Kubica, who was expected to lead the rejuvenated Lotus Renault GP team's assault on the front of the field this season, suffered broken bones in his right arm and leg, as well as a partially severed right hand, after a guard rail penetrated the cockpit of his Skoda Fabia RS, and is likely to miss the entire F1 season after undergoing many hours of surgery to repair the damage.
Although the Pole insists that he will work towards an early return, Lotus Renault has already confirmed his former BMW Sauber team-mate Nick Heidfeld as stand-in alongside Vitaly Petrov, and may, having officially sanctioned his rally appearance in Italy, may now decide to tighten the terms of its drivers' contracts to prevent a similar situation befalling anyone else.
Indeed, that is a course of action likely to be followed by Lotus Renault's rivals too, with many of the drivers happy to indulge in other risky activities between races. While Jenson Button's obsession with triathlons appears safe enough, Red Bull rival Mark Webber has already shown the perils of riding a bike - and on two occasions no less - while those drivers who partake in the odd spot of karting to keep their hand in may also find their enjoyment curtailed. Former Williams and McLaren driver Juan Montoya notably injured himself using motocross as a means of keeping his mind focused, but it is not just competitive activity that can be costly, as both David Coulthard discovered when his private jet crash-landed, killing his pilot.
“The last thing Robert Kubica should be worrying about at the moment is his contract – and, of course, we all wish him a speedy recovery from his injuries,” Dominic Crossley, a partner with leading motorsport law firm Collyer Bristow, comments, “However, it does raise an interesting question over whether F1 stars will find their contracts becoming less forgiving when it comes to out-of-season racing and participation in other sporting events.
"Historically, F1 drivers have taken part in everything from triathlons to rallying, powerboat racing to mountain biking, skiing to snowmobiling, all in the name of training - and to stave off the boredom when not behind the wheel of an F1 car - but, when there is so much money invested and so many contracts involved – sponsors, teams, insurers, etc – how much longer will drivers be given the freedom to indulge their passions?”
The other side of the argument, and one put forward by Lotus Renault team boss Eric Boullier when defending the decision to allow Kubica to go rallying in the first place, is that curtailing their interests could result in drivers becoming even more corporate than they already appear to the outside world.
“This is a debate which has been raging for decades, and we are no closer to a resolution," Crossley concludes, "The long-term implications of curbing the activities of F1 drivers could be far-reaching – affecting the personalities who are successful within the sport, the success of events with a lower profile that rely on a big name F1 draw to secure sponsorship and attendance and the activities of reserve drivers who support the teams.
"Putting it simply, with contracts, you could reduce the likelihood of horrific accidents such as that which befell Robert Kubica, but at what cost to the sport of F1?”
Thanks to our colleagues at Collyer Bristow. For more information, click on the following link: Motorsport Law