Damon Hill highlights a big problem holding back the entire F1 grid

Michelle Foster
Fred Vasseur and Laurent Mekies speaking with Toto Wolff. Canada June 2023

Ferrari team boss Fred Vasseur and Laurent Mekies speaking with Toto Wolff. Canada June 2023

Damon Hill believes Formula 1 teams abolishing their gardening leave policies would go a long way toward closing the gap between the teams.

This month alone three Formula 1 teams are waiting for new signings to join, not because they haven’t signed, but rather because it is their old teams’ gardening leave policies that are keeping them at home.

Gardening leave is the period that a team mandates their former colleague, but still paying paid, cannot work for a rival for fear of passing on secrets.

Damon Hill calls on F1 to abolish gardening leave policies

Williams are waiting for Pat Fry to join from Alpine, that set to be in November, AlphaTauri have Laurent Mekies coming across from Ferrari but only in January next year, while the Scuderia have reportedly signed Mercedes’ performance director Loic Serra but he won’t be arriving before 2025.

And then there is former Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer, who was let go at the summer break and is reportedly on a 12-month forced vacation.

Hill believes the whole palaver of gardening leave is actually doing more harm to Formula 1 as a whole than good to the individual teams.

“This whole business of gardening, and people not being able to go from one team to another, I think is not in the spirit of the sport,” he told the F1 Nation podcast.

“I think people should be able to go, ‘Okay, I’m leaving, and I’m going to start immediately at another team’.

“I think that would sharpen things up a bit, and probably bring teams a bit closer.

“I just think that the whole business of a team being able to stop someone using their skills, and immediately somewhere else, has meant that it’s harder for other teams to get…

“I think that fluidity is what is going to bring teams closer together and make it much harder for teams to get away.”

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His fellow pundit Tom Clarkson agreed, saying: “Formula One is a people sport now more than it’s ever been. All the teams have got the same amount of money now. So it is a people sport.

“And if you’re trying to hire someone, as you say, and you can’t get hold of them for 18 months, then it just delays everything and makes life incredibly difficult.”

Gardening leave arrivals can take ‘three years’ to have an effect

Ferrari team boss Fred Vasseur weighed in on gardening leave during a recent interview with Corriere dello Sport with the Scuderia reported waiting on ‘two top technicians’.

According to the Frenchman, from the signing of the person to the impact they have on the team, that can take up to three years given the various gardening leave periods.

Refusing to confirm the two people Ferrari are said to have signed, “because they are still active in other teams and we don’t know when we will be able to have them with us”, he added: “The times we have available in Formula 1 are not those of a football coach: if I hire an engineer I will be able to use him maybe two years later and his work will take effect in the third year.

“This year we will hire about eighty technicians, half new and the other half to replace those who leave, or retire or are moved to other sectors.

“We must act with discretion to try to reduce their gardening period as much as possible.”

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