Yesterday the news broke that former Force India driver Adrian Sutil had dropped his appeal against his conviction of assault against Lotus F1 CEO Eric Lux. The news came only days after Lux’s admission that he had forgiven Sutil for what he had done and also expressed no qualms about any potential return to F1 for the German driver. However, what chance a comeback for Sutil, his name dragged through the mud and his reputation in tatters? He is a fine driver no doubt, but in a world riddled with political correctness and sponsor necessity, will Sutil ever get his chance to shine in F1 again and more to the point, does he deserve it?
A few months back I wrote an article drawing comparisons with Adrian Sutil’s case and that of former F1 driver Bertrand Gachot who, back in 1991, was imprisoned after spraying tear gas in the face of a taxi driver in London. Make no mistake about it though, there was a lot more to the story than that. If you care to read the article (linked above) I will be surprised if you do not conclude, like I did, that Gachot was extremely hard done by; especially considering the eighteen month suspended sentence and $276,000 fine that Sutil received.
Despite spending a term in prison Gachot was fortunate enough to enjoy a return in Formula 1 in 1995, spending brief and relatively unsuccessful stints with French team Larousse and Pacific F1. This shows that an F1 return for Sutil is far from impossible, particularly with his FIA super-license unaffected by the rumblings of the last few months. However, a lot has changed in the world of Formula 1 in the intervening seventeen years between Gachot’s return and Sutil’s trial, and this could well be of detriment to the twenty-nine year old German.
The point of this article is not to asses Adrian Sutil’s character that would be pointless, I do not know him and therefore am ill-judged to speculate over such things. I want to put forward points and opinions which would support or negate any potential comeback for Sutil.
Firstly, it is important to note that we currently have no reason to suggest that this incident was not a rash out of character occurrence, to write somebody off after a ‘freak’ one-off like this event would surely be extremely harsh. Particularly when you see convicted criminals walking free from prison after committing far more heinous crimes than Sutil has committed; these people are integrated back into society, often under the police-protection scheme, at the expense of the tax-payer. Sutil has done wrong no doubt, but he has never been involved in anything like this before and is far from being say the Joey Barton of Formula 1, frequently involved in night-club brawls and other such misdemeanours.
I did a quick headcount via my twitter account on Friday, testing the water as to see who felt Sutil deserved a second chance, the response was pretty much split with a slight majority in favour of a return for Sutil. One fan I spoke to proclaimed ‘James Hunt used to hit everyone’, a rather tongue in cheek statement but Hunt did indeed join a long list of F1 drivers who were a tad overzealous with their fists, shall we say. Nelson Piquet and Eliseo Salazar’s punch-up at Hockenhiem in 1982 is the one that always springs to mind where I’m concerned and a certain Nigel Mansell would have surely been arrested had he pinned Ayrton Senna up against the wall by his neck at anywhere other than the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. These drivers never suffered professionally because of their violent outbursts, rightly or wrongly, save for a petty fine or two.
Crucially though, times have changed and more to the point just because James Hunt did it and this driver did it and that driver did it, doesn’t give anybody cause to condone Sutil’s actions. What Sutil actually did to Eric Lux is pointless discussing, we know it was bang out-of-order and a petulant act from a man who should have known better. Only a select few witnessed the event though, and we do not know the scenario in which the event took place. However, what we do know is that Lux now carries a scar from the event and Sutil carries the equally heavy burden of a GBH charge against his name.
As I have reffered to once before the changes that Formula 1 has undergone in the past twenty or so years have left the political structure of the sport almost unrecognisable to what it once was. The budgets are now have to be astronomically high for teams to even have a chance of running a car, even teams that hold as much prominence as McLaren are now no longer as independent as they once were; the fact that they succumbed to signing the new Concorde Agreement recently highlighted this fact. Basically, money is everything, particularly to the smaller teams who incidentally are likely to be the teams thinking of implying Sutil should he ever attempt to get a foot back in the door of F1.
In a world where pay-drivers are becoming a more and more regular feature down the paddock, Sutil will surely find himself struggling to find a seat; he will effectively have to start from square one again. His sponsorship deals with ‘Capri Sun’ and ‘Medion’ will most certainly have been lost (although nothing official has been confirmed) and it will not be an easy task for Sutil to find companies who want to sponsor a man with a GBH conviction. The fact is that Adrian Sutil is damaged goods, whichever way you choose to look at it, his old friend Lewis Hamilton’s refusal to even testify for Sutil showed how the incident was viewed around the paddock and Force India’s decision to let him go would undoubtedly have had something to do with the impending trial.
It is a sad state of affairs where people are more concerned with their ‘brand’ and their marketable image rather than helping out a colleague or a friend. However I believe that although it may seem this way it is far from the truth. Pictures of Eric Lux’s wound would be enough for anybody to think foul of Sutil and I believe Lewis Hamilton would have been the first person to fight Sutil’s corner had there been any justice to fight for. When Lewis was at school he was falsely accused of punching a fellow student and it took months to clear his name, he even had to leave the school and seek legal advice, as he received no help from the local authorities. It had a profound effect on the future world champion and it is something I believe he would not want to happen to anybody else. Thus, it creates a view shared by myself and by many of my followers on twitter that what Hamilton saw, he felt he could not come to condone.
After dropping his appeal Sutil released a statement, which read:
“I’m very happy that I’ve been able to express myself to Eric Lux and don’t have to go to court again,” he said.
“I don’t want to have to go through another year like the one past. The topic is finished and I want to resume doing what I do best as quickly as possible–racing in Formula One.”
It is clear from this that Sutil has not lost any of the desire that first led him to gain a seat in F1 back in 2007 with Spyker F1, however one feels he will face an uphill battle to regain a seat in the sport, a bigger battle than he has ever faced.
What do you think about Adrian Sutil’s chances of an F1 return? Do you think he deserves a second chance after making a mistake, like we all do, or has his reputation been tarnished beyond repair. Let us know by commenting below or by joining the debate on twitter. www.twitter.com/thewriteformula