Dutch F1 driver Giedo van der Garde is taking the Sauber team to court in Melbourne on Monday, claiming that he has been unfairly dismissed. The indications are that this is probably what happened, but there is a clear explanation as to why that was deemed to be necessary and while Van der Garde may not like the explanation, the team can argue that it was forced by circumstances to do it. What is not clear is what Van der Garde hopes to gain from this action. The team is set on running Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr and is obviously not keen to change from that path. If Van der Garde forces the team to take him on, he will have to fulfil the terms of the contract, which will mean paying a considerable sum of money to Sauber, so he is fighting a case in order to have the right to spend money and then race a car that he has not tested. That hardly makes sense.
The team could pay Van der Garde a settlement but it is not entirely clear – in legal terms – what Giedo has lost from the decision not to run him. He has not lost out financially because he was the one who would be paying (and that is presumably written into the contract that he signed). Van der Garde may claim damages but, as he was the one paying, it is hard to see how he will win anything financial from a court because arguments about damage to his reputation and career are not going to be very successful, given that he has always been seen in F1 circles as a pay-driver, even though he does do a decent solid job. It is hard, however, to argue that being dropped by Sauber would in any way materially affect his image and longterm prospects. That may sound harsh, but that is the way the law will look upon it.
The team had planned to run Van der Garde and Jules Bianchi, a Ferrari protege, in 2015 but Bianchi’s accident in Suzuka sidelined the Frenchman and resulted in the need for Sauber to change the entire arrangement. Thus the team did deals with Ericsson and Nasr and took on Raffaele Marciello as a test driver, to keep Ferrari happy. The decision was taken because the other drivers were paying more and the team will no doubt argue that this was necessary because Sauber was in danger of going out of business. It is believed that Ericsson’s deal involved an up front payment that was of vital importance to the team at the time. The whole thing could get pretty messy as Sauber might also point out that Giedo himself denied signing anything after the deal was done on June 28 last year, which would be true but also understandable.
One can understand that Van der Garde might be angry and that it upset his plans but one hopes that he has found a back-up plan in the interim and it would not be ridiculous to suggest that the reason we have heard nothing about the second drive at Manor Marussia is because it is being kept open for Giedo. There must be some reason that Max Chilton and Alexander Rossi have given up hope and signed deals elsewhere and there is no obvious reason to delay a decision about a driver who is being paid. If Van der Garde was named as a Manor Marussia driver before the case is heard he would have no case at all.
One might surmise from all of this that the legal action is not designed for anything other than to embarrass Sauber, which would be revenge for the team’s cynical, but some might say necessary, decision. All things considered it is hard to see what anyone has to gain from all of this.
One hopes that Giedo does have an agreement with Manor Marussia and that he will soon get back to racing.