Giedo van der Garde has won his Supreme Court of Victoria hearing against the Sauber F1 Team, paving the way for the Dutch driver to race at this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix.
The team – which used a frankly pathetic safety defence to try and block van der Garde’s claim – has responded with predictable disappointment, issuing a statement that hints it will withdraw from the race rather than be forced to run the Dutch pay-driver.
“We are disappointed with this decision and now need to take time to understand what it means and the impact it will have on the start of our season,” team principal Monisha Kaltenborn said after the decision was handed down.
“What we cannot do is jeopardise the safety of our team, or any other driver on the track, by having an unprepared driver in a car that has now been tailored to two other assigned drivers.”
While the financial motivations behind the team’s position are extremely clear, it has made such a mess of its legal defence that it only has itself to blame for losing the case.
What we understand was that the team planned to run both van der Garde and Ferrari protégé Jules Bianchi for the 2015 season, with the hiring of the latter guaranteeing the team a significant discount on its Ferrari engine costs. Van der Garde’s inclusion would come with millions of Euros in backing through sponsors largely tied to his billionaire father-in-law, Marcel Boekhoorn.
Bianchi’s career-ending injuries at the Japanese Grand Prix spelled disaster for Sauber – while it inherited Ferrari Academy driver Raffaele Marciello as a reserve pilot, it still had an ever-growing black hole in its finances.
That was due to two factors: (1) the failure of money to arrive from the backers of Russian reserve driver Sergey Sirotkin, and (2) the collapse of the commercial backing supporting affiliate driver Simona de Silvestro.
With fellow backmarkers Caterham on their knees, Marcus Ericsson’s management team came sniffing and offered a big cheque to Sauber upon a contract being signed for the Swedish driver to join the team, effectively in Bianchi’s place. The money would immediately ensure Sauber would survive into 2015, but it needed more cash than van der Garde could bring to give itself a proper budget with which to go racing.
Williams reserve driver Felipe Nasr and his Brazilian backers then entered the scene, offering more money than van der Garde’s, and so Sauber had a solution to its very big problem. With due respect to Ericsson and Nasr, they are no better prospects than van der Garde, but they bring more cash.
Or so it thought…
The only sensible solution would be a financial settlement to van der Garde, but Sauber doesn’t have that kind of cash floating around to make him disappear.
So the courts have now been ordered the Dutchman run in a car he hasn’t been fitted for or tested, and to drive for a team that – despite whatever spin he cares to put on it – clearly won’t want him there. He therefore won’t have a chance – and nor will the team desire – to produce results comparable to either one of the drivers he will replace.
What is not clear is whether the court ruling is simply an agreement with van der Garde’s claim, or a direct order for Sauber to run him. The Swiss team could stick with its original line-up and look for a way out with a settlement, but that may risk a contempt of court finding and a further lawsuit by van der Garde for increased damages.
Sauber could indeed follow through with its hint and withdraw completely from the event, which it can do without financial penalty from the FIA under its own commercial agreement written with Formula One Management.
The team has put itself in a right mess, and van der Garde’s efforts look rather wasted when there was clearly a seat with the Manor Marussia team up for grabs (which went to fellow pay driver Roberto Merhi).
Equally no one will want to go near van der Garde, after showing his true colours for the second time by taking an employer to court. In 2008, van der Garde was awarded $1.8 million in damages from Force India after the team failed to upholds its contractual obligations after both parties agreed to a $3 million deal for the Dutchman to run as a test driver (when the outfit was then-known as Spyker).
There are no winners here.
Image via Kayel