Giedo van der Garde’s application to the Australian courts to claim a race seat with Sauber for the 2015 season has been ruled successful. This creates a right royal mess. Sauber is, of course, to blame for this, but one can understand the motivations behind the decision. The original plan, as I understand it, was to have Jules Bianchi and Van der Garde as the team’s drivers in 2015. The inclusion of the Frenchman ensured a top talent and also backing for the team (probably in the form of an engine discount) from Ferrari. Van der Garde was included because he would be able to provide considerable funding for the team, through his sponsors, largely related to his father-in-law Marcel Boekhoorn. After Bianchi was injured in October, it became clear to Sauber that the plan needed to be changed as Ferrari was no longer in a position to help the team as it was going to do. The team still has an arrangement with the Italian team, to have Raffaele Marciello as its test driver, but this meant that the team still has a hole in its 2015 budget. Perhaps more importantly, so I am told, the team was in a cash-flow crisis at the time because of the failure of Russian backers to deliver money that had been promised and because the plan to develop a relationship with Simona de Silvestro had also run into financial trouble. The word is that Marcus Ericsson’s backers were willing to pay Sauber a substantial sum of money on signature of a 2015 contract which meant that the team was instantly out of immediate financial danger, but that still meant that there was more money required to get to a sensible budget in 2015. Thus when Felipe Nasr came along with more money than Van der Garde, it was the obvious solution to the problem. Ericsson and Nasr are pay-drivers just as Van der Garde is a pay-driver, but with more money and no real evidence to show that Van der Garde would produce better results it was logical for the team to secure its financial future and hope to be able to score the best possible results, so as not to risk losing its TV money in 2015.
It is clear that the only possible solution will be some kind of a settlement, but Sauber cannot really afford to pay Van der Garde to go away. In any case, it is a ridiculous situation in that the team will have no desire at all to run Giedo and he is not going to be able to produce any decent results with a team that does not want him, so forcing the team to put him in the car is not really going to achieve a great deal. The team is faced with the same problem if it now dumps one of the other drivers so it is probably best to stick with what is done and work out how to settle the dispute. The court has ruled that the contract is valid but it remains to be seen whether there is an order to Sauber to run him. If there is then the team is in danger of contempt or court, but if not it could simply ignore the ruling and then Van der Garde would have to apply for damages. Giedo does seem to have a right to feel aggrieved, but he must also understand why this has happened. That does not help his career but going ahead will not be much help either. Other teams may be wary of doing any deals with him in the future on the basis that he is rocking the boat when it clearly does not need to be rocked.
Sauber is trying to argue that Van der Garde will present an unacceptable safety risk as he has not driven the car and it has been tailored to fit the other drivers.
“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,” Monisha Kaltenborn, Sauber CEO and team principal, said. “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.”
Finding a solution to the problem is not going to be easy, but I really don’t see what Van der Garde has to gain from going on down this path. With Roberto Merhi having been signed by Manor Marussia the last available race seat is now closed to him.