FIA investigation could cost Caterham 25m+

Caterham F1 Team

26 March 2012 by Ryan Wood

The Caterham F1 team has been embroiled in legal fights since its inception back in 2010, but the latest case brought against them could dwarf that of the naming saga seen last season.

Whilst it looked as though Caterham got off scot-free from the Force India vs. AeroLab/Caterham court ruling last week, which claimed the Italian aerodynamics specialist and Tony Fernandes owned team had used significant amounts of Force India data to develop the Lotus Racing T127 from 2010, an investigation by the sports governing body could prove otherwise.

The FIA has been asked by both Force India and Marussia - Caterham's closest rival - to investigate claims that the team used development data from the VJM05 to develop its first car.

Marussia's sporting director, Graeme Lowdon, explained the reasons behind their dialogue with the FIA.

"The rules that we all as teams operate under are very strict and very clear in terms of what we have to do as a constructor," he is quoted as saying by GPWeek. "There are certain parts of the car that you have to design yourself and you have to own the IP to that.

"Unless I'm mistaken, the contents of part of this judgement suggest that there has been copyright infringement and if that's the case it needs to be looked at and it needs to be looked at seriously because it's really fundamental to the integrity of the sport."

Whilst the London High Court found AeroLab and Caterham to have used Force India CAD files, they believed it was purely to cut corners and speed up the development process, rather than copy the parts as a whole.

However, paragraph 373 of the 122-page ruling suggests much deeper copyright infringement took place, "In my judgment the Aerolab/FondTech CAD files do reproduce a substantial part of the corresponding Force India CAD files for the following parts: the vortex generator, rear brake duct lower element and rear view mirror."

If clear evidence can be found by the FIA that data from the VJM05 was designed into the T127, then the outfit could face losing its tenth place finish in 2010. Whilst such a penalty may be seen as harsh, damaging to the sport and the team, it isn't unheard of. In 2007, McLaren were stripped of their points, thrown out of the Constructors' title (in which they would have finished first), and fined £62 million ($100m).

Such a scenario at Caterham could very well be likely if found guilty, resulting in the loss of their column one status, which sees them take a share of the F1 prize money, estimated at £18m ($30m) as well as significant fines easily topping £10m ($15m).

The FIA are currently awaiting the results of a separate criminal case against the teams and AeroLab before conducting its own investigation into the matter.