Jaguar threatens legal action over Newey - but what can they really do?

JAGUAR CEO Bobby Rahal made it abundantly clear yesterday (Saturday) that Adrian Newey's decision to stay at McLaren - only two days after agreeing to join Jaguar - is not a matter that will be quickly forgotten by his team.

Rahal, who had flown to Milwaukee for today's CART race, has made it clear that Jaguar will be using every legal means to seek redress over the situation. Insiders suggest that this may even involve the making public of documentation which could prove beyond doubt that Newey signed a legally binding contract to work for Jaguar at his home in Virginia Water, near London, last Tuesday evening.

However, F1 insiders believe that initiating a legal action over this matter may be easier said than done. European Union employment law gives a great deal of freedom to the individual to order his own life and decided for whom he will - or will not - work. There is also the question of quantifying precisely what loss Jaguar Racing have experienced - apart from a loss of face - over this extremely embarrassing episode.

Interestingly, such an action is more likely to be aimed at Newey himself rather than McLaren International. It could be said that McLaren was simply protecting its own corner and that Newey's vaccillation over the issue gave them their chance to persuade him and tie him down to a new deal. On the other hand, it is clear that this is not simply a question of giving Newey a much better deal than Jaguar. Sceptic believe something more fundamental must have happened in the tense negotiations between the engineer and McLaren boss Ron Dennis last Thursday evening.

Interestingly, the McLaren-Mercedes press statement on the matter last Friday was a masterpiece of evasive obfuscation. Crucially, at no point did it seek to deny specifically that Newey had signed a binding contract with Jaguar. It didn't even address the issue. It just meandered on about "embarrassment" and "regretting any speculation."

By contrast, Jaguar's statement contained a quote from Newey making the point just how delighted he was to be joining his old friend Rahal, etc. Unless Newey and Rahal were both hallucinating about their agreement, it's difficult to see why a company of Jaguar's standing would have issued such a structured, formal statement - which had clearly been approved by all the parties involved.

In truth, this matter could run and run. And it won't be McLaren, Mercedes, Jaguar or Ford who could ultimately find themselves squirming with very public embarrassment. It will be the man at the center of this debacle, Adrian Newey himself.

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