Monday, December 27, 2010

Identity criteria for Formula 1 teams

The ongoing controversy over the right to use the Lotus brand-name in Formula 1, highlights some subtle questions concerning the identity criteria for a Formula 1 team.

Companies, like people, are able to remain the same entity, despite changing substantially over time. Whilst philosophical discussions of personal identity revolve around bodily and psychological continuity, the identity of a company seems to hinge upon a combination of location, key personnel, name and ownership.

It seems fairly uncontroversial to propose that continuity of location, personnel, name and ownership, are jointly sufficient to preserve the identity of a Formula 1 team. Conversely, if all four of these conditions are violated, then it seems impossible to justify any claim for the preservation of identity; a team located in a different place, employing different people, bearing a different name, and possessing different ownership, must simply be a different team. Equally, however, none of these four conditions is individually necessary to preserve identity. Let us look at some examples to demonstrate this.

For a start, continuity of name and ownership is unnecessary to preserve identity, as clearly illustrated by the case of the 'Brackley-based team', which has, within the past decade, evolved from BAR into Honda, from Honda into Brawn, and from Brawn into Mercedes. The successive changes of name and ownership have not prevented this being considered to be a continuation of the same team. Hence, continuity of location and personnel alone are sufficient to preserve the identity of a team.

Continuity of location is also unnecessary to preserve identity, as exemplified by the Williams team, which in its current location at Grove is still clearly a continuation of the same team which was once located at Didcot. This case proves that continuity of personnel, name and ownership, is jointly sufficient to preserve the identity of a team.

The history of McLaren, meanwhile, provides another interesting case study. The merger between McLaren and Project 4 in the early 1980s effectively resulted in a change of ownership (from Teddy Mayer and Tyler Alexander to Ron Dennis and partners), and a change of location from Colnbrook to Woking. In this case, there was only continuity of name and personnel, yet it seems to be accepted that McLaren in the 1980s was a continuation of McLaren in the 1970s. It appears, then, that continuity of name and personnel alone are also sufficient to preserve the identity of a team.

Another interesting case is provided by the creation of the Arrows team from the key personnel within the Shadow team. (In fact, this is almost an example of fission, exactly the type of phenomenon which poses such difficulties in philosophical discussions of personal identity). On the basis of continuity of location, name and ownership, the Shadow team remained identifiable as the same team which existed prior to the departure of Alan Rees, Jackie Oliver, Dave Wass and Tony Southgate, even if the team had been fatally weakened in the process.

Abstracting from such cases, it might be proposed that the identity of a Formula 1 team is preserved if and only if the following criterion is satisfied:

There is continuity of: Either (location and personnel) Or (personnel and name) Or (location, name and ownership).

Irrespective of these complications, the preservation of identity seems to be impossible without some form of continuity. Setting up a new team with the same name as a famous, but defunct team, isn't sufficient to ensure preservation of identity. As the case of the Lotus name in F1 demonstrates, breaking all forms of continuity opens up the possibility of multiple entities, each claiming to be the modern representative of a famous historical team. And if there's one thing which the criteria for identitiy must ensure, it is the preservation of initial uniqueness.

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