Minardi demands Toyota's attention

ALTHOUGH Toyota Motorsport is ignoring Minardi's attempts to get compensation for the loss of Gustav Brunner, Minardi insists that a contract does exist and that legal action will follow against Brunner and Toyota.

Toyota says that there is no case to answer.

Toyota spokesman Andrea Ficarelli says that before the company signed a contract with Brunner it received an assurance from him that he was free from any agreement with Minardi. Ficarelli added that Toyota "have no reason to disbelieve his version".

Ficarelli confirmed that Toyota has received a letter from Minardi claiming damages but said that Toyota "is not contractually bound to Minardi in any way" although the company has asked its lawyers to verify the legal situation between Brunner and Minardi in order be "fair and legal".

Toyota's lawyers apparently concluded that there was "no evidence of a breach of contract".

This is decidedly odd as Stoddart's lawyers are convinced that there is "a clear and unequivocal contract in place between Minardi SpA and Gustav Brunner and remains so until 12 midnight on December 221 2002."

Minardi says that as a result of this contract it is going to instigate legal action, "individually and collectively", against Brunner and Toyota.

The arguments are so polarized that observers are questioning whether it is all a game of bluff or whether the two parties are referring to different contracts. As no meeting has been held it has not been possible to ascertain whether or not this is the case.

"The question arises as to whether they have actually seen it," said a Minardi spokesman. "Team personnel have offered to meet with Toyota and provide the relevant documents, but Ove Andersson refuses to discuss the matter.

"If Toyota doubts that such a contract exists European Minardi F1 repeats its offer to show the documents to the company's nominated representatives at a venue of their choice. If this offer is again rejected the only conclusion that can be reached is that Mr. Brunner and Toyota are being economical with the truth in regard to this matter."

Swiss law - which covers the Brunner-Minardi contract - moves very slowly. This means that the Japanese can get the benefit of Brunner's knowledge and experience in the short term but in the long term there will have to be a settlement. In theory Brunner will have to pay up, but Gustav could never be accused of being naive and it is almost impossible to believe Toyota's argument that Brunner did not get some form of assurance from Toyota that it would sort out any legal issues raised by his switch.

Toyota has the additional problem that its reputation for honesty was somewhat besmirched in 1995 when Andersson's Team Toyota Europe was found guilty off having used illegal turbo restrictors on the Catalunya Rally in Spain and was banned from competing in the following year's World Rally Championship.

"Obviously we have been up to no good," said Andersson at the time. "This has to be penalized."

The fact that Toyota is being doubted suggests that Andersson is still paying that penalty.

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