Outcast Sauber driver Giedo van der Garde is taking his former employer to Melbourne’s Supreme Court of Victoria on Monday to seek an arbitration action to force the Swiss team to put him in one of their cars at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
The Dutch driver is claiming that he was unfairly dismissed, having allegedly agreed to terms with the Hinwil squad to be one of its race drivers for the 2015 Formula 1 season after spending a year as their official reserve driver.
It was the team’s plan to run van der Garde alongside either incumbent driver Adrian Sutil or Ferrari protégé Jules Bianchi, and even went as far to take up a June 28 option on his services to promote him. It is not clear when – or even if – any contract changed hands, but he certainly had not done so when contacted by RichardsF1.com during the Singapore Grand Prix at the end of September.
Any deal with van der Garde, however, went out the window as Sauber’s very survival was coming increasingly under threat when its funds started to dry up. He was ultimately gazumped by the heavily-backed duo of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr, who managed to buy their way in to the outfit’s official racing line-up.
Simply put, the Sauber team had little choice: it was a case of taking Ericsson and Nasr’s more significant dowries to avoid going under completely. There is no doubt that van der Garde brought substantial backing of his own, but he obviously couldn’t compete and went on the record to indicate he may challenge the team’s decision to replace him.
In effect, he’s seeking a ruling to to allow him to spend his backers’ money to race a car he has never seen, let alone driven. It does not make any sense.
On November 24, van der Garde launched arbitration proceedings in the Swiss Chambers’ Arbitration Institution, in which he “sought permanent injunctive relief that would have the effect of assuring [him] a place as a race driver on the Sauber team for 2015.”
The SCAI decided in favour of van der Garde on March 2, where, according to van der Garde’s submission to the Victorian Supreme Court: “[Sauber] was ordered to refrain from taking any action the effect of which would be to deprive Mr van der Garde of his entitlement to participate in the 2015 Formula One Season as one of Sauber’s two nominated race drivers.”
Quite what he hopes to achieve from this next hearing – let alone knowing what is legally possible – remains to be seen. It is not known whether an Australian court has the obligation to respect the SCAI’s ruling or even enforce any contract (no doubt signed in Switzerland and subject to Swiss labour laws) that van der Garde and Sauber may have agreed to.
Should van der Garde win – and that’s a prospect considered unlikely, according to labour law sources we have contacted – then van der Garde would have to honour his end of the bargain, which would be to come up with the cash to buy his way back into the team. In effect, he’s seeking a ruling to to allow him to spend his backers’ money to race a car he has never seen, let alone driven. It does not make any sense.
Sauber might be forced – or elect – to pay van der Garde a settlement, although it’s not exactly clear what financial impact van der Garde can claim to have suffered given he was the one prepared to pay for the privilege of driving the car. Australian courts are unlikely to entertain the concept of further damages in the form of compensation given the evidence is that van der Garde would have been the one doing the paying.
There are whispers that van der Garde is actually in the frame for the second race seat at the Marussia Manor squad, which will offer the drive to the highest bidder who wants to be teammate to the well-heeled Will Stevens.
Perhaps van der Garde is on the team’s shopping list, in which case it makes this court action against Sauber even more curious. Maybe his sole aim is to shame the team into admitting that it did the wrong thing by him in trying to secure its own short-term financial future? Regardless of what malice may have been felt, Sauber’s situation was clearly desperate and it had to secure the future of its entire workforce, not just the future of a well-heeled Dutchman.
Van der Garde is no stranger to suing former employers – he previously sued Force India relating to his brief stint as a test driver with the outfit during its Spyker iteration – but it would appear that the only reputation being damaged right now is his.
Image via XPB Images