Dodgy F1 tactics may trigger shareholder lawsuits

Formula One teams risk being sued by shareholders over instructions to allow one of their drivers to be overtaken by the other, according to a leading motorsport lawyer.

This forbidden process, known as team orders, has been under scrutiny since last month's German Grand Prix when Ferrari driver Felipe Massa allowed his teammate Fernando Alonso to overtake him. Alonso's resulting victory gives him a championship shot since, although he starts today's Belgian Grand Prix 20 points behind the championship leader, Mark Webber, he could go top with 25 points for a win.

Jonathan Lux of lawyers Ince & Co says that directors of a business running a team that is penalised for issuing such orders could be in breach of the 2006 Companies Act. This affects the majority of F1's teams since eight of the 12 are based in the UK.

Lux says that if a team is penalised for team orders "the directors could be accused of failing to exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence".

Shareholders may sue if the fine given for issuing team orders outweighs the benefit they bring. F1's championship winner gets $70m (£45m) prize money.