Fistycuffs at M1NT?

Eric Lux, part owner of the Renault F1 team, has confirmed that he will commence legal proceedings against Adrian Sutil regarding an altercation took place in a nightclub after the Chinese Grand Prix. The incident is an unwelcome distraction for Sutil who is currently under pressure at Force India, and has brought back memories of Bertrand Gachot whose F1 career was derailed twenty years ago in a vaguely similar scenario.

As discussed on earlier in the week, there are not many facts available in the Lux/Sutil case so it is not fair to draw any conclusions. Sutil went to the M1NT nightclub on Sunday after the race in Shanghai with a group of F1 people, including Lewis Hamilton. During the night there was an incident from which Lux emerged with a cut in his neck. Sutil later admitted that he “unintentionally injured another guest”.

The internet is rife with speculation about what did or didn’t occur, and a statement from Lux suggests that there might have been more people than just Sutil involved. The details of the story will emerge in due course, particularly if it goes to court, and only then will any meaningful analysis be possible. Sutil’s manager has already said that “Adrian will use every available means to clarify his position and clear his name”.

It’s safe to say Sutil won’t be seeking a drive with Renault anytime soon.

In the short term, the episode places significant pressure on Adrian heading into the Spanish Grand Prix. He is already under the pump in 2011 due to the strong performances of Paul Di Resta, and now that a potential new threat to his position at Force India has arisen, he will be even under more pressure to produce stronger results on track.

Force India’s management have said they are sticking by Sutil, but their statement wasn’t a categorical sign of unyielding support. They said “although the team continues to monitor the situation, it remains fully committed to its driver line-up at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix”. It might not be wise to read too much into the semantics of the message, but the team appear to have left the door open for changes in the near future.

The incident is also going to become a massive off-track distraction for Sutil. He will be facing plenty of attention from journalists this weekend, especially since no-one knows the full story. Adrian might be wise to release a detailed statement early in the weekend to avoid being hassled, but either way he is going to face a difficult preparation for the Grand Prix. It certainly isn’t ideal considering he is under attack from a fast young teammate.

Sutil’s predicament has been loosely compared to that of Bertrand Gachot, a Formula One driver whose career was ruined by a fight away from a Grand Prix that saw him spend time in jail. Although there is very little in common between the two incidents (other than an F1 driver being involved in a fight) it is an opportune time to reflect on Gachot’s interesting story.

Gachot is widely remembered as the driver whose enforced absence in 1991 gave Michael Schumacher his Grand Prix debut, but he was a talented driver in his own right. He won the 1986 British Formula Ford Championship, and finished second in the following year’s Formula Three series after collecting a swag of podiums. He moved through Formula 3000 and then reached Formula One in 1989 with Onyx. Although he only made it through qualifying on five occasions for the struggling team, he was often ahead of his more experienced teammate, Stefan Johansson.

Gachot also raced successfully in sportscars and won the 1991 Le Mans 24 hour race in the rotary powered Mazda 787B. His win in the world’s toughest sportscar race, at a time when the World Sportscar Championship was hugely competitive, is an enormous achievement.

Gachot was signed by the new Jordan F1 squad for 1991. Gary Anderson designed the team’s first car with the intention of making it as simple as possible to ensure the team could build on an uncomplicated base. It turned out the car’s simplicity made it rather competitive, and Gachot was able to string together some good performances. He scored points in three races, matched the pace of the more experienced Andrea de Cesaris, and even set the fastest lap in the Hungarian Grand Prix. His career was in the ascendancy before his life changed forever that August.

Bertrand was involved in a traffic incident in London, and got into a fight with a taxi driver during which he sprayed CS gas. Gachot has always maintained that he was acting in self defence, but was deemed buy a judge to have used too much force because CS gas is illegal in Britain. Bertrand was convicted of possession and causing actual bodily harm, and was sentenced to a two year prison term.

The immediate impact on Gachot’s career was that he missed the Belgian Grand Prix, and his vacant seat was given to Michael Schumacher at the insistence of Mercedes. Gachot appealed his sentence and the Court of Appeal agreed that two years was harsh given the circumstances. His prison time was cut short to just two months but he still missed three other rounds of the F1 World Championship.

The day he was released from prison, Gachot jumped on a plane for Suzuka where the Japanese Grand Prix was being held. He was hoping to slot straight back into his vacated Jordan seat, as per his 1991 contract, but Eddie Jordan had already offered the drive to Alex Zanardi and was unable (and likely unwilling) to bring Gachot back into the team before the season ended.

Bertrand did a deal with Larrousse and joined the team for the final race in Adelaide, but he failed to qualify.

Gachot’s F1 career never recovered from that setback. Schumacher was able to use his short time in the Jordan to springboard into a bigger outfit, and Gachot missed his similar opportunity. Bertrand would not have made the same big impact as Schumacher, but he might have been able to forge a longer career in the F1 midfield.

Gachot did return to Formula One, and also raced in sportscars, but he never had any further success. In 1992 he raced in F1 with Larrousse, but retired from 12 of the 16 races that year. He was later heavily involved in the Pacific Grand Prix team that raced for two seasons in ‘94 and ‘95, but finished just two of the 27 races he spent with the team.

Bertrand’s last appearance in a competitive motor race was in the 1997 All-Japan GT Championship.

Adrian Sutil is unlikely to face the same fate as Bertrand Gachot as their stories are completely different, but it is a timely reminder that incidents away from the track can have a big impact on a Grand Prix career.

That becomes especially true if the driver in question is already under pressure within his team.

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