F1 Tales: Brushes With The Law
There may be continuing speculation that Bernie Ecclestone could be charged by prosecutors in Munich over bribery allegations but it’s far from the first time that Formula One has become embroiled with the law, and I mean more serious crimes than ‘hooning’ or Eddie Jordan’s shirts. In the final of the series of tales from Formula One, we take a look at some of the sport’s more nefarious characters…
In 1991, Italian shoe manufacturer, Andrea Sassetti bought the ailing Coloni F1 team, an outfit that had failed to even qualify for over two years. Bernie Ecclestone had put Sassetti in contact with Simtek Research who would supply Sassetti with chassis as well as convincing several experienced F1 people to join the team but it swiftly went downhill after that for Andrea Moda. First there was an argument over the $100,000 deposit necessary for a new team, then driver Perry McCarthy was refused a superlicense at Imola while in Canada they had no engines having failed to pay Judd. The team failed to even reach the French Grand Prix having been caught up in a strike by French lorry drivers. With most of the important staff having deserted by the time the Formula One circus arrived at Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix the story of Andrea Moda Formula reached its climax when Sassetti was arrested in the paddock for allegedly forging invoices. The following week at Monza, the FIA decided that enough was enough and threw the team out of Formula One before it could damage the reputation of the sport further.
While Sassetti was arrested, he escaped charges but others in the 1980’s and early 1990’s didn’t, most notably Renault Sport boss Gerard Toth who was imprisoned for diverting money being paid by Tyrrell to engine supplier Renault into his own bank account. Another was businessman Ted Ball, who financed both the Brabham and Lotus teams but was found guilty of defrauding banks out of millions of dollars to fund his interest.
Then there was Jean-Pierre Van Rossem. Having made a fortune through his stock market trading company, ‘Moneytron’, the Belgian millionaire started out as a sponsor of the Onyx F1 team in 1989. It was Van Rossem that insisted on the team’s blue and pink livery. By the mid-season, he was the majority shareholder in the team and was even close to securing an engine deal with Porsche for the following season. However, the team’s fortunes began to unravel at about the time that Porsche decided to back Arrows instead, prompting Van Rossem to sell the team at the beginning of 1990. Shortly afterwards, Monetron collapsed with investors claiming they’d been defrauded of $200 million. Van Rossem was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison, although he managed to gain immunity for a while by getting himself elected to the Belgian parliament. Eventually, however, he served his sentence.
In 1992, the Venturi car company sold its half of the Larrousse team to a group called Comstock which was owned by a German businessman called Rainer Walldorf. In actual fact, Gerard Larrousse’s new business partner was really called Klaus Walz and turned out to be wanted by the police of several European countries in connection with four particularly grisly murders. This only came to light when the French police raided Walldorf’s home only for him to escape after threatening the officers with a hand grenade. A month later, police caught up with Walldorf again and, after a nine hour siege, he was shot and killed during the ensuing gun battle.
Rainer Walldorf/Laus Walz wasn’t Gerard Larrousse’s only unfortunate business partners. On first entering Formula One it had been with Didier Calmels who promptly shot and killed his wife, having caught her in flagrante with her lover.
A couple of former Formula One drivers also found themselves on the wrong side of the law for more than the usual speeding charge. Last year, ex- Sauber and Benetton driver, JJ Lehto was imprisoned for negligent homocide amongst other charges after a boat accident that killed his friend. Then earlier this year, Jos Verstappen, the driver that replaced Lehto at Benetton before stints at Stewart and Arrows amongst others, was accused of the attempted murder of his ex-girlfriend before charges were dropped. He had previously been convicted of assault after an incident at a karting track. And of course, there is Adrian Sutil who was found guilty of assaulting Lotus team co-owner Eric Lux.
The one that got away, however, is Mexican businessman Fernando Gonzalez Luna. In late 1989, he announced that he would create Formula One’s first Mexican team. Gonzalez Luna Associates, GLAS, began targeting Mexican companies and investors for funding. The project stepped up a gear when Gonzalez Luna revealed that he had persuaded Lamborghini to become involved, not only supplying engines but designing and building the chassis as well. The news encouraged more investors and the whole project was building to a successful entry into Formula One. And then Gonzalez Luna, along with the money he’d raised, disappeared. It had all been an elaborate con trick but in effort to recover something from their investment, Lamborghini persuaded Carlo Patrucco to run the car as the ‘Modena Team’ until it was closed down at the end of the season. Gonzalez Luna, meanwhile, still hasn’t been found…
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Credit: Sahara Force India F1