Well, well

The Saubers are out in the second session in Melbourne. The drivers are Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson.

Another view…

Looking at the situation at Sauber right now, one wonders whether the motivation behind all this courtroom activity is simply Dutch stubbornness and an understandable sense of having been wronged, or whether there are bigger picture things going on. Things are not always as they seem in F1, so one must ask why this mess is happening when there is little or no chance of any serious compensation.

How can a court assess image damage to a pay-driver? A judge would say: what was Mr Van der Garde’s reputation and prospects before the incident? Amiable pay-driver, no real prospects of a Ferrari drive or World Championship potential. The Dutch side’s lawyer would no doubt argue that Giedo is the next Fernando Alonso… Sauber lawyers on the other hand might point out some character flaws (this is nasty stuff going on) and claim, for example, that GvdG may have denied having a contract right through last summer, so he might be willing to say what was required rather than the truth.

The judge might then ask what Giedo’s reputation is after the incident: and the reply would come back, not quite so amiable pay-driver.

So a judge might conclude that the only thing that GvdG has lost is the reputation for being amiable. If there were clauses in the contract that involved money changing hands then Sauber would be required to pay those back, but I wonder whether punitive damages could be applied? I doubt it.

And is the image damage worth a financial settlement? How do you quantify amiability in dollars? You cannot. In any case, one cannot blame wholly Sauber for this, because the responsibility is shared by all involved in this legal jamboree…

So we must perhaps consider that there is more to this than meets the eye. There often is in F1 stories. Could this, for example, be an attempt to bring the Swiss team to its knees as part of some kind of hostile takeover bid? Giedo’s father in law has been quietly sniffing around F1 for a while now, looking at ways to get into team ownership (so they say) and making a big mess in public might help such a scheme. Alas, a family-owned team is probably now the only way Giedo could get a drive in F1, so that might be one possible strategy. The Dutch F1 landscape is about to undergo a Verstappen Moment and so Giedo & Co must act quickly before they are swept away by a flood of Max Verstappen’s stories.

Sauber is a nice asset but has serious cash problems because of the mess F1 is in. F1 cannot go on destroying itself for much longer and so a smart investor might say that now is the good time to acquire a team because once a new structure comes along, teams will again have a value. Look at Williams. The US investor Brad Hollinger is buying in there because he sees F1 being close to a new growth spurt. Changes are required but in a couple of years the landscape may be very different to today.

Sauber has always been one of the most honorable and honest teams and I fervently believe that the current mess was caused only by desperation ( just as Lotus’s Carmen Jorda moment can hardly be put down to anything else) and the desire to keep the team alive and the people employed. That does not excuse it, but it helps to explain it.

Other more creative brains might argue that in recent years clever young team bosses have been disappearing on a regular basis, Adam Parr and Marco Mattiacci spring to mind. Perhaps the European Commission problems are seen by some as being the fault of Monisha and taking out the troublesome is a good tactic “pour encourager les autres”, as Voltaire might say.

Anyway, what we need right now is engine noise to drown out all of this crap. Gentlemen, start your engines!

If you can…

F1 goes into Friday in Melbourne limping, having (once again) successfully shot itself in the foot.

It seems that the sport is incapable of producing a positive news story when one is required. On the first day of the new season, we should be seeing comments about how Nico and Lewis are going to go stick it one another again this year. Fans want action and character. They want conflict. They want bread and circuses. Mercedes need to provide that. They know that. Their car is good, probably great. The opposition is not going as well. So what we want is Nico Rosberg saying: “Lewis, I’m going to beat you” and Lewis saying: “Yeah, yeah, bring it on.”

It would be good to see Lewis wearing a cowboy hat and a blanket with some spaghetti western music twanging away as he walks into the paddock. It would be good to see Nico (in the black hat) squinting into the sunlight, looking nervous. A little theatre would not hurt anyone. Instead we have Lewis in serious introvert mode, shrugging at questions that involve any tiptoeing.

Come on boys, give us a show! We need to paint the picture of F1 in 2015 and our paintbrushes are ready, but if you don’t give us some paint, there is not much we can do. The other great positive story this weekend is the survival of Manor Marussia. It shows all that is good in F1. A doomed team surviving thanks to ingenuity, grit, effort and the bulldog spirit. Instead we are all focussed on the ridiculous Van der Garde-Sauber kerfuffle, which is packed full of negatives.

F1 is just useless at telling positive stories. Last year we launched amazing new technology and all F1 people could do was whine about the noise. This year no-one is talking noise and the ticket sales are up…

Just occasionally it is good to escape from this and behind the main grandstand there is a row of old Delages and Bentleys to set the hearts a-fluttering.

If you want to come and discuss this with me, you’re welcome to come to my audience tonight. Sign up here… There are still a few places left…


It seems that Giedo van der Garde may have done well in court in Australia but the word on the street in the paddock in Melbourne is that the Dutchman made a mistake during the winter and failed to apply to his national sporting authority for them to ask the FIA to grant him a Superlicence. This means that he cannot race in Melbourne because it takes 14 days for the process to happen.

In addition it begs the question is Giedo in breach is his Sauber contract by not having done the required paperwork?

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.

2015 Preview cover

The new F1 season kicks off next weekend in Melbourne and we will be there watching the action. In the preview edition we look at what we think is going to happen in 2015.

In GP+ this week…

– We talk to Lewis about life, love and the universe
– We examine the state of the F1 economy
– We look at Alonso’s accident
– We remember Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Gérard Ducarouge and Robert Manzon
– And we rate the teams and the drivers.
– The Hack discusses concussion
– JS says that the sport must try harder
– DT wonders about strategic thinking

GP+ is the fastest magazine in the Formula 1 world. It is published as the mechanics are still wiping down the cars after each and every race. It is 90-odd pages and is published in PDF format so you can read it on your computer, you iPod and even on your mobile. It’s an old style magazine but in a modern format. It goes right to the heart of the sport, inside the F1 Paddock. We are there at every race and we get to the people that matter. We are also passionate about the history of the sport and love to share it with our readers.

GP+ is an amazing bargain. You get 22 issues for £29.99, covering the entire 2015 Formula 1 season.

For more information, go to http://www.grandprixplus.com.

I’m off to Australia on Monday, with the plan being to publish the GP+ season preview for Tuesday morning (GMT). So if you are wanting to subscribe now is the time to do it. It’s simple and easy to do and all you need to do is to click here to do it.

I am also holding an Audience with Joe on Friday in Melbourne, and you can sign up here if you would like to attend. The goal is to answer any question that a fan wants to put me.

The F1 circus is largely in the air at the moment. Manor has passed its crash tests and will be present although no second driver has yet been nominated. Bernie Ecclestone is trying to dream up new schemes of customer cars, while the small teams are still saying (very quietly) that they want a fair share of the prize money and a fair say in what happens in the sport…


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