The first step towards Sebastian Vettel leading Aston Martin into Formula 1 in 2021 is about to begin.
It will see Sergio Perez and his Racing Point team heading to the Contract Recognition Board (CRB) to establish whether the Mexican’s contract, which runs until the end of 2022, is valid or whether the team can drop him to make way for Vettel next year.
This is always the starting point in such disputes.
When a grand prix driver signs a contract with an F1 team, the document must be lodged with the CRB. Included in the contract is a clause which says the parties agree to respect any decision by the CRB in the event of a question or a dispute.
The CRB was created as an independent body to solve contractual disputes without the need for court action. It consists of a panel of four European lawyers, of different nationalities, who are appointed by the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris.
The CRB process is conducted in secret and the decisions taken are communicated only to the parties concerned, with everyone bound not to divulge any information or make any comment about the procedure.
The administration of the CRB is dealt with by a public notary in Geneva and all meetings take place in the Swiss city.
At such a meeting, the panel reads the terms of a disputed contract and then decides whether or not the contract is valid. Once the CRB has made a decision a team is committed to respect the decision.
But this does not mean that the two parties cannot agree to a settlement and cancel the contract.
If a team makes it clear to a driver that it does not want to run him, then it is fairly pointless to try to force the issue and the only solution is to negotiate a suitable deal.
Most contracts have a clause stating that a team must provide the driver with a car, and the best option can be for the team involved to pay another team to take the driver, leaving the other terms in place. If that is not possible then a financial settlement will be required and the driver can then make his own arrangements.
The CRB was established in the early 1990s after Benetton decided to ignore a contract and dumped its driver Roberto Moreno to make way for Michael Schumacher. That led to an injunction being granted against the team and a financial settlement was required before Schumacher could drive Moreno’s car.
In the case of Perez, there are suggestions he may switch to either Alfa Romeo Racing or Haas, but neither is a very attractive option for him given that he would be forced to give up a competitive car.
However, if he wants to continue in F1 he must get the best solution he can. That will likely cost Racing Point a great deal of money, but one can see that having Vettel involved might help to generate more funding.
Vettel says that he has made no decisions up to now but in order for Racing Point to begin this process – if indeed that is the case – the German driver will have at least told the team that he is willing to consider such a move.
To embark on such paperwork and to alienate the team’s lead driver would be nonsensical without some kind of an indication that Vettel would like the drive.
Such a move will clearly impact on the motivation of any F1 driver, which might perhaps explain why Sergio was outpaced during the Hungarian GP weekend by Lance Stroll.
Perez is a top driver and somewhat underestimated, and is unfortunate for him to have ended up in a situation with Vettel being on the market.
He would be a good choice for Alfa Romeo, in place of Kimi Raikkonen. He knows the team well, having raced for the Hinwil squad in 2011 and 2012 before being hired by McLaren, although the team is somewhat different these days.
As a Ferrari customer, the Swiss team has little hope of competing with Ferrari itself and with Ferrari currently hobbled with poor engine performance, which may turn into a long-term problem given the engine freezes, the choice is relatively bleak, as was seen last week in Hungary when clever decisions put the two Haas drivers in third and fourth early in the race but they could not compete and fell back to ninth and 15th. Both Ferraris were lapped while the two Alfa Romeos finished 16th and 17th.
The other key question is whether or not Sauber will have the funding to continue at the same level as it remains uncertain whether Alfa Romeo will continue with its sponsorship of the team.