The thing a Formula One team wants to avoid above all else is one of its cars crashing. But Mercedes has just managed to crash its entire UK brand — or will do unless it swerves, fast.
Last week, Mercedes Formula One declared it had signed a sponsorship deal with the Irish company Kingspan: ‘Glad to have you aboard, Kingspan! Welcome to the Team! An exciting partnership for these two final races of the 2021 season.’
And Kingspan’s got the money to spend: last year it reported trading profits of more than 500 million euros.
As anyone knows who has been paying the slightest attention to the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, in which 72 people were killed, Kingspan has a toxic record
But, as anyone knows who has been paying the slightest attention to the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, in which 72 people were killed, it’s a building materials firm with a toxic record.
Not only was some of its inflammable cladding installed on the tower, but its executives were revealed under cross-examination to have been unscrupulous and dishonest in the claims they had made for their product’s safety.
It is not surprising that Grenfell United, which represents families of the victims, declared Mercedes’ decision to put the Kingspan logo on the nose of Lewis Hamilton’s car ‘truly shocking’. (Hamilton himself, who has put the hashtag Justice for Grenfell on social media statements in the past, merely observed that he is not involved in sponsorship decisions.)
But it will have come as a shock to Mercedes that Michael Gove, the Housing and Communities Secretary, issued a public letter condemning the sponsorship deal.
Later, documents emerged from his department which observed: ‘Since the fire in 2017, the companies [involved in the Grenfell cladding scandal] have awarded pay packages and bonuses to directors worth £335 million [but] we can find no evidence of any contribution whatsoever by these companies to remediate historic fire safety defects which is clearly completely unacceptable in a context where the taxpayer has provided £5.1 billion through the building safety fund and leaseholders are facing significant costs.’
It is not surprising that Grenfell United, which represents families of the victims, declared Mercedes’ decision to put the Kingspan logo on the nose of Lewis Hamilton’s car ‘truly shocking’
And what was the initial response of Toto Wolff, the Austrian boss of Mercedes F1? He insisted that before signing the deal, his team had ‘engaged with Kingspan in depth to understand what role their products played in what happened at Grenfell’ and the firm had explained that only a ‘small percentage of their product was used without their knowledge in part of the system which was not compliant with building regulations’.
As Grenfell United retorted in an open letter to Mr Wolff: ‘By only asking Kingspan for their account of their involvement you are, in essence asking them to mark their own homework — a system which led to Grenfell in the first place.’
It is true that the vast majority of the lethally inflammable cladding on the Tower was supplied by another firm, Celotex. But it was Kingspan which pioneered the use of combustible foam-based cladding on high-rise buildings, even mass-marketing a product which had failed one of its own fire safety checks catastrophically.
An internal company document, the public inquiry revealed, recorded a ‘raging inferno’ in which the insulation was ‘burning on its own steam’ even after the flames had been extinguished. As Kingspan admitted to the inquiry, it had kept this test result secret and continued to sell the product for use on high-rise buildings.
It will have come as a shock to Mercedes that Michael Gove, the Housing and Communities Secretary, issued a public letter condemning the sponsorship deal
You may well be asking why on earth did Mercedes want to have Kingspan’s logo on its cars, even for any amount of sponsorship money?
Even after the horror of Grenfell, Kingspan tried to persuade MPs and ministers that its foam cladding was as safe as any, by supplying them with ‘tests’ it had itself conducted on insulation made by the rival firm Rockwool, whose wire-based product was not combustible but less thermally efficient. These tests were rigged to make the Rockwool product seem more dangerous. Or, as the Grenfell Inquiry’s counsel, Richard Millett, put it to the Kingspan production manager Adrian Pargeter, who had actually been promoted since the fire: ‘Kingspan, even in the face of an investigation into fire safety after Grenfell, was doing its best to ensure that science was perverted for financial gain… Did you see the aftermath of the Grenfell fire as something of a commercial opportunity?’
You may well be asking why on earth did Mercedes want to have Kingspan’s logo on its cars, even for any amount of sponsorship money? Here’s the reason: Kingspan’s website declares that its ‘mission is to accelerate a net zero [carbon] emissions future with the well-being of people and planet at its heart’.
Indeed, the main reason for the cladding of Grenfell was to comply with new building regulations demanding high-rise blocks burn less fossil fuel by making the structures more ‘thermally efficient’.
But the effect of such cladding, given the way Kingspan played the system (for example by threatening the building regulators with litigation if they refused to accept its product’s suitability for high rise), has not been to save the world from global warming but to contribute to mass human incineration in London.
So, bizarre as it might seem, Mercedes F1, conscious of the criticism of a motorsport business based on burning vast quantities of the now-despised fossil fuels, saw the Kingspan brand with its ‘mission to accelerate net zero emissions’ as handy in terms of greenwashing its image.
Toto Wolff (pictured) insisted that before signing the deal, his team had ‘engaged with Kingspan in depth to understand what role their products played in what happened at Grenfell’
But even Toto Wolff seems belatedly to realise that he’s in danger of incinerating his own brand.
Asked yesterday whether he would cancel the sponsorship deal with Kingspan, the Mercedes F1 boss said: ‘We’ve initiated a dialogue with some of the community of the bereaved families and survivors of Grenfell … we are looking at it with a matter of urgency … we just want to do the right thing with integrity.’
Integrity! If Mr Wolff had taken the trouble to initiate a ‘dialogue’ with the Grenfell families beforehand, rather than just take Kingspan’s word, Mercedes could never have made such a morally bankrupt manoeuvre. It must U-turn, at high speed.
A final act of spite from Arthur’s murderer
As if to emphasise her absolute lack of contrition for the murder of her six-year-old stepson Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, Emma Tustin refused to leave the cells to attend court for her sentencing.
It was also a final act of spite in denying the boy’s grandparents the bleak satisfaction of seeing her in the dock as a convict and the judge set out her punishment (a minimum term of 29 years in prison).
Last month another killer, Chun Xu, refused to attend his sentencing for strangling a 16-year-old girl in the Welsh town of Ynyswen. Judge Paul Thomas, when sentencing Xu for a minimum of 30 years, said he would ‘address Xu as though he is in the dock’.
Not very satisfactory.
Then there was Hashem Abedi, who last year refused to attend sentencing at the Old Bailey for his role as an accomplice in his brother Salman’s mass murder of Ariana Grande fans at the Manchester Arena.
Emma Tustin refused to leave the cells to attend court for her sentencing for the murder of her six-year-old stepson Arthur Labinjo-Hughes
The presiding judge, Jeremy Baker, declared: ‘My understanding is that, having been brought to this building, Hashem Abedi has refused to come into the courtroom’, and explained that ‘force cannot be used’ to compel attendance for sentencing.
It would probably have been still more distressing for the victims’ relatives had Abedi been forced into court, only then to start yelling insults. But it seems wrong that there is no penalty for refusing to appear.
And as it is not a crime, it can’t be addressed by an increment on the sentence. As a senior criminal barrister put it to me: ‘It is not a contempt of court — which is a crime — but it is contemptuous of the court.’
So what could be done to penalise such behaviour? His own off-the-cuff suggestion seemed a good one: ‘It is quite easy to make the first year of a person’s imprisonment less pleasant by withdrawing privileges, for example by not allowing them a television in their cell.’
Although, given the nature of her crime, Emma Tustin will have more than that to worry about when she encounters other prisoners.