Toto Wolff, Mercedes, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021

Mercedes apologise to Grenfell group for “hurt” caused by Kingspan deal

2021 F1 Season

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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has apologised on behalf of the team to families of the Grenfell Tower fire victims for the “hurt” caused by their recently-announced partnership with Kingspan.

In an open letter to Wolff published yesterday, the group Grenfell United – which represents survivors and the loved ones of victims of the 2017 Grenfell Tower catastrophe – condemned the team’s announcement of a sponsorship deal with building materials company Kingspan as “truly shocking”.

“Kingspan played a central role in inflicting the pain and suffering that we feel today and there must be a degree of public censure for Kingspan’s recklessness and carelessness for human life,” the letter stated.

Grenfell United claim that Kingspan misrepresented the fire safety qualities of their insulation materials, which were used on Grenfell Tower. Phase two of a public inquest into the disaster will resume next week.

In a response to Grenfell United’s letter, which was posted on social media, Toto Wolff offered an apology to victims’ families.

“The tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire was beyond imaginable to me, and it should never have happened,” Wolff states in the open letter.

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“On behalf of our team, I would sincerely like to apologise to you for the additional hurt that this announcement has caused. It was never our intention to do so.

“The work of the public inquiry to establish the full causes of the tragedy is crucially important,” Wolff continued. “Prior to concluding our partnership, we engaged with Kingspan in depth to understand what role their products played in what happened at Grenfell.

“Kingspan have stated that they played no role in the design or construction of the cladding system on Grenfell Tower, and that a small percentage of their product was used as a substitute without their knowledge in part of the system which was not compliant with building regulations and was unsafe.”

Wolff said he will accept Grenfell United’s offer to meet with representatives of the group to discuss their concerns with them.

“I know that this does not change in any way the awful tragedy you suffered, or the deep and ongoing pain felt in your community, and I would like to thank Grenfell United for the offer to meet in person for me to learn and understand better,” Wolff continues.

“I look forward to coming together as soon as we can.”

Criticism of Mercedes’ deal with Kingspan from the Grenfell United group was echoed by UK Secretary of State for Housing, Michael Gove, who said he was “deeply disappointed” in the team accepting sponsorship from the company while the public inquiry into the tragedy is ongoing.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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20 comments on “Mercedes apologise to Grenfell group for “hurt” caused by Kingspan deal”

  1. Barry Bens (@barryfromdownunder)
    3rd December 2021, 15:45

    I bet the check Mercedes received didn’t hurt…

    1. Toto went crying all the way to the bank

    2. @barrydownunder

      This is one of those instances where the money isn’t worth the negative publicity and the ill will the deal generates. I would not be surprised if Mercedes were to find a way to exit this deal sooner rather than later.

      1. The deal isn’t purely a monetary transaction by the looks of it. It appears to be some ‘sustainability’ tie in with regard to building materials and so on. That means it’s probably part of a complex agreement between the two companies. Maybe Mercedes got a discount by adding the F1 sponsorship to the deal. Who knows. I highly doubt it’s a simple deal they can pull out of without massive implications.

        This is very much a regional reputation issue though for the UK. Outside of the UK the reputation damage is somewhat limited as Grenfell is not widely known about. It’s quite clear a lot of fans are leaping to Merc and Kingspan’s defense because they are less likely to understand the nuance of the case and the statements Grenfell United have made, which I am sure Kingspan will be pleased about. The reality is the reputational damage will be contained unless something major occurs like Lewis Hamilton deciding to boycott one of the next two races which he most likely isn’t going to do.

        Merc will ride the storm, and get on with it once the (justified) outrage dies down a bit.

        Unfortunately F1 isn’t an ethical paradise, it’s the total opposite. I think these kind of news stories give a glimpse into that.

    3. I’m sure merc has burned through that money already.

  2. I see it like a developer using a smaller sized electrical cable than the building code requires. You can’t hold the manufacturer of the cable for any mishap as a result of the unprofessional conduct of the developer. The company will justly or unjustly always be associated with the horrific outcome of that tragedy.

    1. I see why you think this. However if you look into the details of the inquiry, the brazen disregard for life shown by Kingspan is pretty breathtaking.

      They aren’t as innocent as an anonymous electrical cable supplier. They deliberately buried evidence that their products were dangerously flammable. Then tried to deny ANY responsibility.

      Awful stuff.

      1. Jay (@slightlycrusty)
        3rd December 2021, 15:59

        @jb784 I don’t claim to be an expert on this case, but that was my impression too. I’m surprised Mercedes accepted Kingspan given that they claim to have looked into the Grenfell case. This feels like a huge gaffe from Mercedes, Wolff shouldn’t allow this to remain hanging over the team, it puts Hamilton especially in an appalling position, it could be a huge distraction for him.

        1. What distraction? Hamilton gets salary from Mercedes, does he really care where they get it from?

    2. Victims will perforce go after deepest pockets present based on available theories of liability and prevailing law. Going after the subcontractor who put in the cable would be a waste of legal fees. I have no idea though whether they are culpable or liable under relevant law.

      I’m sure that MB’s inside and outside counsel looked at this specific reputational risk closely and had this statement already on hand. And I’m sure the risk increased the price of the deal for the sponsor necessarily.

      1. @dmw Presumably Mercedes aren’t short of other potential sponsors. So the way you pot it, it seems like they just wanted that extra premium.

  3. Other teams should take a lesson. When a capitalist entity keep signaling virtues and build image as the righteous one, other would scrutinized every business decision it made.

    I can imagine far bigger uproar for Mercedes if BP Oil became its sponsor than any other teams.

    1. BP sponsors Alpine

    2. A quick glance at the Wikipedia page for Petronas includes a section on their involvement in war crimes in Sudan between 1997 and 2003. “When the consortium that Petronas took part in operated in Block 5A, approximately 12,000 people died, and 160,000 were violently displaced from their land and homes, many forever. Satellite pictures taken between 1994 and 2003 show that the activities of Petronas in Sudan coincided with a spectacular drop in agricultural land use in its concession area.”

  4. They aren’t a very nice company to work for either, from what I’ve been told by ex-employees.

  5. Bad move all round from Mercedes, no excuses, they either knew about Kingspan’s involvement and didn’t care/didn’t think anyone would care, or researched their would-be sponsor badly (unlikely). However it’s pure cynicism from Gove given the deep involvement too of the local Tory council in the scandal.

  6. absurd! i think MB were “guilted” into apologizing. Should all teams now apologize for all their sponsors that have caused any harm? If that is what’s acceptable nowadays, then there would be no sponsors in the future.. most of the teams wouldn’t exist either, as they are all not innocent..
    the current apologetic/PC culture has gotten out of hand…

  7. I made the assumption that Kingspan was now a ‘historic’ name, I didn’t think they’d still be trading under that, however much they were or weren’t at fault, it surprised me. It’s synonymous with Grenfell, as much as ‘White Star’ is with the Titanic.

    I would have thought it’d be easier for them to just change their name than to sponsor an F1 car in an attempt to change their brand image. Whatever they do, peoples minds will still jump to Grenfell upon hearing that name, rightly or wrongly.

    *I’m not suggesting businesses should just change their name when they do something bad, just that I expected that is what would happen here, and that stickers on F1 cars isn’t going to do much.

  8. So expect some survivors or families of victims in the Mercedes pit/vip in the next race and then all is forgotten

  9. Worth adding the reply from Grenfell United. They aren’t backing down by the looks of it.

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