The Sauber F1 Team’s lawyers have raised the extraordinary claim that allowing Giedo van der Garde to compete at this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix would pose “an unacceptable risk of physical harm or even death” as it moves to block the Dutchman’s attempt to force the Swiss team to allow him to drive.
The team and its former driver were the stakeholders in an extraordinary court hearing today in Melbourne’s Supreme Court of Victoria, with van der Garde seeking an arbitration action to force the Swiss team to put him in one of their cars at this weekend’s 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. Van der Garde had already won a Swiss arbitration hearing over the same matter.
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 and bring in “many millions of Euros”, Sauber’s lawyer Will Houghton QC told the court.
Sauber’s legal co-chair, Rodney Garratt QC, argued against van der Garde’s claims of entitlement to a drive in that the 29-year-old had not tested in the team’s car, and had not gone through the two-week custom seat-fitting process.
Putting Van der Garde in a car he wasn’t fitted for or trained in would put other drivers and support staff at an “unacceptable” risk of death, he added.
“Mr van der Garde has no experience driving the c34 Ferrari and would not have sufficient time to learn,” Garratt also told the court.
The team’s very defence ignored the very precedent it set during the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, where it installed McLaren reserve driver Pedro de la Rosa in place of an unwell Sergio Pérez.
Van der Garde’s lawyer, Tom Clarke, cited another case along similar lines: in 2012, the Lotus F1 Team installed Jérôme d’Ambrosio at short notice when Romain Grosjean was banned from participating at the Italian Grand Prix – the Belgian had not driven the team’s E20 at all prior to that race.
“Teams are very flexible to make adjustments for every specific driver,” Clarke told the hearing, adding that both Nasr and Ericsson’s contracts allowed the team to replace either one without breaching their deals.
Nasr and Ericsson were in attendance at the Supreme Court of Victoria to hear the opening statements.
The sitting judge, Justice Clyde Croft, elected to reserve his decision until 10:00am on Wednesday.
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