Formula 1

Vettel vs. Hamilton incident at Baku – what it tells us about rule enforcement in Formula 1 and sports

A lot of light heat and sound is being created over the incident during a Safety Car period in the European Grand Prix at Baku where Sebastian Vettel, angry at what he thought was an incident of Lewis Hamilton brake-testing him at the exit to a corner, drove alongside Hamilton and then deliberately bumped him.
Vettel was penalized for the incident by being given a stop-go penalty. Predictably, opinion is split between people who believe that Vettel was not punished severely enough, and should have been disqualified, run out of town on a rail etc. etc. and people who believe that the incident was a storm in a teacup between two competitors, and that the media is against Vettel (in the case of the UK media, it must be because Vettel is German and “Don’t Forget Ze Var!”).
Lost in a lot of the discussion is that Vettel has a track record of behaving petulantly on-track. There was the infamous “Multi 21” incident in a race in 2013, where Vettel essentially refused to obey team orders to let Mark Webber pass him on-track, and then lawyered up to weasel out of punishment from the team. More recently, last season Vettel unleashed a string of expletives at Charlie Whiting in a race after another incident. So his behavior in Baku was not exactly new, nor was it totally unpredictable.
There is a simple reality at work here. Competitors in any sport will do what they think they can get away with. They will read the rules, watch how other successful past and current competitors and their role models in the sport behave, and then go out and push the rules to their limits. Talk about “the spirit of the rules” would be regarded by hard-core sports competitors as so much naive fluff. In the case of Sebastian Vettel, he has made no secret of the fact that Michael Schumacher was his hero growing up, and Lewis Hamilton has made no secret of his reverence for the late Ayrton Senna. Both men, as drivers, were bristlingly and uncompromisingly competitive, and both pushed the rules and norms of the sport up to (and in some cases, beyond) previously accepted limits.
It is up to the rule enforcement bodies in a sport to determine what the competitive limits are, and what to do about incidents where competitors go over those limits.
Unfortunately, most competitive sports governing bodies merely fine competitors or put them on probation. Partly this is because many sports leagues are essentially run by team owners, and team owners, as a general rule, do not like to see their highly-paid star performers sitting disconsolately off to one side while the game or event takes place without them. The same applies to Formula 1, where teams like Ferrari would be publicly indignant if one of their drivers was suspended. However, as Joe Saward explains in this commentary, the FIA may be about to come down hard on Vettel for several reasons, and Ferrari, who have been behaving like a bunch of horse’s asses towards the media for months, are likely to find that there is no reservoir of sympathy for them.
However, trying to regulate competitor behavior with fines and probationary warnings never works. Most fines are chump change to athletes earning millions (and some cases, tens of millions) or dollars annually. They will regard a fine as merely part of the cost of doing business.
Competitors will only change their behavior if their actions cause them to be denied the opportunity to compete. Competing is what they live for.
So…any discussion around consequences for Sebastian Vettel’s actions in Baku involving monetary fines, penalty points or minor losses of grid position is total fluff. If he is guilty of dangerous driving, the FIA should have suspended him for 1 race, or disqualified him from the race in Baku and then made him start the next race from the pit lane with a 10 second penalty on the rest of the field.
It is my belief that if the FIA had suspended Ayrton Senna for 5 races and docked him 25 championship points for running into Alain Prost back in 1990 at Suzuka, we wouldn’t have to had to watch this incident, or the Schumacher-Hill and Schumacher-Villeneuve incidents in 1994 and 1997. The message would have been sent along time ago to formula 1 competitors “if you collide with another driver deliberately, it WILL cost you a championship”. The current behavior patterns by drivers are the direct consequence of 20+ years of pussyfooting and inaction by the FIA.
UPDATE – Whenever I read articles talking about “making an example” of a competitor to “send a message”, I know I am dealing with a scenario where a sport has failed to correctly regulate competitor behavior in the past. If Sebastian Vettel, for example, knew in advance that running into Lewis Hamilton would have resulted in an immediate black flag, preferably supported by past incidents where drivers were black-flagged, he would most probably not have run into Hamilton.


No, Honda and Ilmor cannot re-badge their Indy V6 engines for F1

The FIA and FOM are going to ask engine manufacturers to tender for the supply of a 2.2 liter twin turbo V6 engine from 2017.
Some of the first comments that I saw on discussion forums were that it would be easy for Ilmor (who provide engines for Chevrolet) and Honda to re-badge their Indy V6 turbo engines for use in F1 from 2017.
Nope, this is not going to happen, for commercial and technical reasons.
Leaving aside the question of whether an existing engine supplier in F1 is allowed to bid on the new engine contract (I am unable to determine whether that will be allowed), it is difficult to see why Honda would want to bid on this contract when they have a program under the current regulations. Now…Mugen might bid on it, or Honda could fund another third party to develop a second tier engine (as they did in 1988, when they sponsored John Judd’s V8 F1 engine program in order to help keep F1 grids full).
Ilmor appear to have no such restrictions, although they have been helping Renault this season with ICE design and reliability. Nobody knows how that contract might restrict their own involvement in F1 as a separate entity.
That is just the commercial side. The real issues are in the technical regulations, in several key areas.
1. Size and weight
The Indycar engine formula was designed to minimize costs of development and operations. The engines have a minimum box size (i.e. a minimum overall set of engine dimensions) that is a very large by F1 standards. They also have a minimum weight which is also high by F1 standards. Both of these rules were introduced to the series to prevent suppliers from engaging in “arms race” spending to reduce the size and weight of their engines, as was happening in F1 at the time. A visual image of an Indy V6 shows an engine that is tall and large by modern F1 standards.
2. Rotational speed
Current Indy V6 engines are limited to 12200 rpm. This is an rpm limit substantially below that of the current F1 engine technical regulations and ICE capability. In practice, current F1 engines are rarely exceeding 12000 rpm except in qualifying, due to current fuel flow limits. However, those limits are due to be lifted for 2017 and beyond, which means that ICE rpm will be a lot greater than 12000 in races.
3. Boost levels and power outputs
The boost levels in Indycar, as they have been for a long time, back to the CART era, are modest compared to the historical and current boost levels in F1. The maximum current boost level allowed in Indycar is 1.6 bar (23.2 psi) which is substantially less than boost levels in F1. Indycar engines, because of the lower boost levels, rotational speeds and fuel, do not use intercoolers.
Because of the modest boost levels and rotational speed limits, Current Indy engines generate a maximum of 750 bhp. Current F1 engines are generating 800-850 bhp in races and in excess of 900 bhp in qualifying. The F1 power outputs are expected to rise above 1000bhp when fuel flow limits are increased in 2017.
4. Fuel
Indy engines use 85% ethanol, which has a massive latent heat of evaporation, which reduces thermal stress in the top of the engines. F1 uses gasoline, which has less of a cooling effect.

To sum up: the current Indycar regulations have created an engine which, compared to the current hybrid F1 V6 engines, is heavy, large, with lower rotational speeds, boost levels, no intercooling, and no energy recovery systems. Even a basic F1 V6 turbo engine for use from 2017 onwards will need to be capable of much higher rotational speeds and boost levels in order to generate competitive power outputs, while being much more compact and lighter than current Indycar engines. This will require a brand new custom engine design, not an adaptation of current Indycar engine designs.


Honda and F1 – remember the 1980s history

As people continue to chortle and poke at Honda’s poor track record on its return to F1, supplying hybrid powerplants to McLaren, it is worth remembering the history of Honda’s involvement in the last turbo era.
Honda returned to F1 in the Summer of 1983 with a V6 twin turbo engine that was initially supplied to Spirit Racing, who had been the lead Honda team in F2. The engine was an all in house effort, with all ancillaries farmed out to Honda sister companies. The engine was powerful, but that was about the only thing it had going for it. Williams, needing a turbo engine desperately, soon signed on to become the lead Honda team in F1, leaving Spirit out in the cold for 1984. (The 1983 Honda engine installation for the interim Williams car was designed totally by Williams, Honda having no idea about heat rejection or ancillary positioning in a car).
In 1984, the Honda engine was powerful, but overweight, with bad throttle lag, and a poor power curve that made Honda-powered cars difficult to drive. There were also questions about engine and chassis rigidity. Keke Rosberg won in a Williams-Honda at Dallas, but that was a fluke win, with all of the faster rivals retiring their cars due to collision damage. The extreme heat of the race caught out a number of drivers, but Rosberg, equipped with a cooling system in his helmet, kept his car on the circuit.
Elsewhere, the cars would qualify well but usually go backwards or retire in races, as the engine’s inconsistently high fuel consumption made it difficult to even get to the end of some races. Rosberg ran out of fuel in one race, coasting to a halt in the pit lane in front of none other than Nobuhiko Kawamoto of Honda, who was visiting for the weekend.
Honda ended 1984 with one lucky win, a couple of podiums, and little else. The engine was regarded by most observers as crude, and uncompetitive compared to rival engines from TAG, Renault and BMW.
For the first half of 1985, nothing much changed. Williams had a new all-carbon car, but the drivers still found the car difficult to drive because of the engine’s bad throttle lag and power delivery. The breakthrough came at Detroit in the early Summer, when Honda debuted a completely new engine design, with a seriously stiffer block, all new internals, and re-designed control systems. The drivers found an engine in the back instead of an on-off switch, and results soon came. Rosberg set a new record by qualifying faster than 160mph at Silverstone, and Williams began winning races. The engine was now more powerful than the Renault and TAG engines, with only BMW beating it on peak power.
In 1986, Honda raised the bar further with the new engine now boasting lower fuel consumption than rivals, which allowed higher race boost and horsepower. By now, Honda was leading the engine supply field, and would do so through the turbo and normally aspirated eras until 1992, when it retired after its V12 normally aspirated design proved overweight and insufficiently competitive.
Highlights included the famous “steamroller” season of 1988, when Honda produced an incredibly frugal engine that allowed McLaren to build a dominating turbo car, winning 15 out of the 16 races.
So…when people write off Honda today in F1, we have to remember that it took 2 years from their debut in F1 in the 1980s before they produced a competitive engine. However, within 12 months they were in the lead, and stayed there for a long time.


The F1 engine token system and why it is not working

When the F1 rule-makers were formulating the current hybrid engine formula, the usual negotiation and horse-trading took place between the potential (mostly then-current) engine manufacturers. Renault, perhaps worried that a spending competition would leave it with an inferior power unit, was one of the proponents of what became known as the token system. The power unit was divided into a number of sub-assemblies, and changes to each sub-assembly were given values expressed as a number of tokens. The number of tokens allowed for development would be fixed after homologation, development would not be allowed in-season, and the number of tokens for off-season development would reduce over several seasons. The idea being that massive engine component development would be curtailed, and as engine manufacturers refined their powerplants, everybody would converge on more or less the same performance.

This looked like a good idea, and all of the engine manufacturers signed up to it. Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes all built power units for the 2014 season. But…by the second day of pre-season testing, it was clear that, relative to Rernault and Ferrari, Mercedes had built a par more powerful unit. The difference was so large as to be embarrassing. Hampered by the rule against in-season development, Mercedes powered cars enjoyed a significant horsepower advantage through 2014. Ferrari and Renault were limited to reliability changes, and improvements obtained by changes to fuel and engine electronics. That helped them some, and Renault scored 3 victories, but all came when Mercedes powered cars hit problems.

At the end of 2014, two teams, Manor/Marussia, powered by Ferrari, and Caterham, powered by Renault, ceased operations. In addition, Lotus moved from being powered by Renault to being powered by Mercedes. Renault therefore lost 2 out of 4 teams running its power units, with a commensurate loss in revenue and mileage for data collection. Ferrari lost 1 of its teams.

Honda’s entry to F1 in 2015 complicated matters. When the engine manufacturers got together to discuss how many tokens should be available for development, it became clear that the rules had not been written tightly enough to preclude in-season development from 2015 onwards. So design and construction improvements to the power units were possible in the 2015 season. After yet more negotiation, the engine manufacturers determined how many tokens were available for development in 2015, and Honda was awarded the average of the other 3 engine suppliers’ token number, since their engine, homologated in March 2015, would otherwise have been frozen.

In 2015, it has become clear that while Ferrari is a lot more competitive with its power unit, Renault is less competitive and less reliable. The more restrictive rules on power unit life have already led to Renault-powered cars accumulating grid penalties after they ran over their allocation of power unit components due to reliability issues. The Mercedes powered-cars are enjoying almost bullet-proof reliability from a more powerful power unit. The non-Mercedes powered cars, with the exception of Ferrari, are struggling to stay on the same lap in races.

By common consent, Renault needs a completely re-designed power unit to have any hope of approaching Mercedes. The challenges are (a) lack of money to develop new components, due to loss of 2 teams (who were, if reports are correct, paying around $40m per team for engine supply in 2014), and (b) lack of enough tokens to support a complete re-design.

Renault is now hamstrung by the very system that it proposed back in 2012 when the new engine formula was being finalized. They are unlikely to be able to create a competitive power unit within the current token system, and the shift to in-season development has further moved the engine development process away from their original vision, which was focussed on out of season development based on defined limits to the number of changes. Honda is also hamstrung not only by the token system, but also by the onerous engine life rules, which are also resulting in Honda-powered McLaren cars collecting massive grid penalties.

There is a real risk that Renault will leave F1 soon, especially given the appalling relationship that they currently have with Red Bull Racing (and, by extension, Toro Rosso). When a team with which you won 4 drivers and constructors championships as recently as 2013 is publicly excoriating you weekly, it is difficult to see any positive upside to remaining in F1.

No privately-funded engine development company can afford to enter F1 under the current rules. Although it is difficult to determine how much money Mercedes has spent on its F1 program, numbers upwards of $300m seem to be a starting point. Only a large-volume manufacturer could afford that size of outlay on an engine design and build process. The high cost of the power units is also distorting the power balance in F1, with the “grandee” teams now threatening to swallow up the smaller teams. To be fair, part of that is due to the teams now controlling the rules via the Strategy Group, another crazy adventure of the “fox given keys to hen house” variety.

The token system might have worked if all of the engine builders had produced power units of relatively similar performance. Then a smaller number of tokens would have been used for incremental improvements.. That is not what happened. Mercedes produced a far superior power unit, and the rivals are now unable to easily catch up due to the engine reliability rules, token limits, and, in the case of Renault, lack of money.

If F1 wants to continue with multiple competing engine suppliers under the current formula, some way has to be found of giving Renault and Honda a better chance of catching up with their power unit designs. The easiest way would be a combination of a scrapping of the token system and a relaxation of engine reliability rules. Mercedes is bound to vote against such a move (why would they vote for it? They have the best powerplant by a large margin) and their customer teams will vote the way that they are told, so it is unlikely to pass the Strategy Group.

My short summary: with the current Strategy Group process, any engine supplier not named Mercedes Benz High Performance Engines is, to a varying level, screwed.


F1 – customer cars…maybe?

The four “big” teams (Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren) met prior to the Canadian Grand Prix to discuss design and regulation changes for 2017. Included in discussions was the issue of how to allow for customer cars.

Most of the regulation changes being floated about (including refuelling and a move to 13 inch rims) appear to be unpopular with the teams due to a combination of cost and workload. So it seems like the only major agreements were to “turn up the wick” on the existing power units to make them more powerful, and to look at wider tyres. There was lots of talk about making the cars look “sexier”, but form follows function, and right now, with aerodynamics being the most important factor, the car looks are not going to change.

It appears that there was little discussion of what is really needed – a total binning of the current aero rules in favour of limited front and rear wings, and a return to a level of underbody downforce generation. That, plus wider tyres, would make it easier for cars to run nose to tail, and would increase the importance of mechanical grip in car set-up at slow circuits..

The two major agreements that they reached on the topic of customer cars appear to be:

1. An entire package of cars and engines will be offered to a team for EUR 50m.

2. Each major constructor can only supply one other team with a customer car package.

As this article from James Allen makes clear, the EUR 50m figure is only a starting point. It does not include spare parts for example.

(2) is essential, as without it, Mercedes would probably supply at least 4 teams with chassis and engines in 2017, and the other major constructors would not have any customers since their power units are currently uncompetitive.

Right now, the big teams are seemingly in the driving seat. However, that unity is tenuous. Red Bull keeps making noises about leaving. Renault is not a lock to continue (yes, they are supposed to be buying a team but they still have an unreliable and poorly developed power unit, and they seem to be trying to do F1 on a budget, which is not how Mercedes approached it).

Bernie Ecclestone keeps reminding people of his alternative plan to provide smaller teams with 2013 Red Bull chassis equipped with Renault V8 engines serviced by Mecachrome, which might only cost teams around $30m a season for chassis and engines. That plan, however, would never pass a Strategy Group vote, which explains why it does not have any traction in 2017 discussions at present.

The unknown in all of this is whether F1 will find itself the subject of a complaint to the EU over the governance of the sport. If a complaint is lodged, it is unlikely that the current structure of F1 can continue. The sport’s current broken governance system will almost certainly be declared in violation of EU competition rules.

I remain skeptical that the franchise car system will ever be implemented. Right now, F1 is in such a mess strategically that anything could happen in the next 18 months, and I am sure that what everybody is publicly saying is likely to happen is nothing like what will actually happen.


Rumors re forced takeover of Sauber F1 team

There are rumors and speculation that the underlying motive behind the attempts by Giedo van der Garde and his lawyers to claim his seat in the Sauber team at the Australian Grand Prix is that it is part of an attempt to force the Sauber F1 team, either into bankruptcy, or to a point where the team has no choice but to accept an offer for it to be bought, or it will go bankrupt.

The theory behind this is that van der Garde’s father in law is the Dutch businessman Marcel Boekhoorn. He is estimated to be worth $1.5bn. If those estimates are anywhere close to true, he could probably buy the entire Sauber team out of pocket change.

One thing I have learned over the years, from reading biographies and news articles, is that highly successful wealthy business people seldom frivolously invest their own money in projects with a low chance of success. Wherever possible, they try to invest other peoples’ money, and limit their own personal exposure. They know the value of money and what it can do, and they are experts at making it work for them.

It is therefore far from obvious to me why Marcel Boekhoorn (or anybody else for that matter) would want to buy the Sauber F1 team. Based on what has been happening to the team over the last 3 years, it appears that the team is struggling to survive. It’s sponsorship revenues have declined as external sponsors depart. The most recent departure was NEC, which sponsored the team last year. NEC left Sauber at the end of 2014, and is now a sponsor for Force India. The only current visually significant sponsor on the car not brought to the team by drivers is Oerlikon, whose name adorns the top of the dorsum next to the engine air intakes.

Rumors in the F1 journalist community have Felipe Nasr’s sponsors providing around $25m this season, and Marcus Ericsson’s sponsors providing another $15m. Let’s add $10m for Oerlikon, and $10m for other smaller deals. That gives a total sponsorship revenue stream of $60m. Now we have to add revenues from FOM. In 2014 this estimate was published about the revenue distribution in 2013. This showed that Sauber may have been paid over $70m in 2013. However, that number will have reduced significantly this year since the team failed to score a point in 2014. Let’s say it is $40m.

This gives total team income in 2015 as $100m. That sounds a lot, but in reality, according to recent stories, to run a properly functioning team takes at least $125-150m a year. That does not include further investment in people and facilities to move the team up the grid over time.

There is also the matter of what debts Sauber has accumulated over the years. If the team owes money to banks or other financial institutions, it will have to fund interest and principal payments on the debt, which will eat into its free cash flow. The fact that Sauber spent a lot of time and effort  in 2013 and 2014 trying to find investors from Russia, prior to finding it’s current drivers, suggests that they were trying to find external investors to stay solvent. It is almost impossible to know what debts the team currently has.

So if Marcel Boekhoorn was to dip into his pocket and buy the team, his committments would be the money to buy the team itself (believed to be owned 66% by Peter Sauber and 33% by Monisha Kaltenborn), and money to pay off the debts. Then there is the ongoing funding of the team. The economic model of F1 currently requires buyers to stump up seriously big money every month just to keep back of the grid teams afloat, since those smaller teams all get low payouts from FOM. The payouts are skewed heavily towards the historically successful teams.

There is also a severe lack of new sponsors in F1. The sponsor changes in 2015 seem to mainly comprise sponsors changing teams (two examples visible are Rexona moving from Lotus to Williams, and NEC moving from Sauber to Force India). There are no new big-money sponsors visible on most cars, and many of the visible sponsors are either brought by drivers, or are companies owned by the team owners.

If Marcel Boekhoorn is serious about buying any F1 team, he had better have a very good business development plan…


Giedo Van Der Garde vs. Sauber – Part 6

Well, since my last post the soap opera has raced through at least two more episodes…

Episode 1 – Friday

A contempt of court hearing commences in Court 15 of the Victoria Supreme court building. Counsel for Van Der Garde alleges that the Sauber team, having cancelled Van Der Garde’s contract with the Contract Recognition Board in February, are refusing to re-activate it, despite being informed on March 2nd by the arbitrator that he still had a valid contract. Without a current contract, his application for a Superlicense cannot be completed. For this and other reasons, counsel begins to outline his contention that Sauber is committing contempt of court by preventing Van Der Garde from driving for the team at the race weekend. He outlines what will be their request that the court issue a draconian order for contempt, involving the sequestration of team assets, and the possible committal of Monisha Kaltenborn to jail.

While his lawyers continue the contempt of court hearing, Giedo van der Garde shows up at the racetrack in Melbourne to claim his seat. His paddock pass initially fails to work, but eventually he is let into the paddock. Then, with advisers and camera crews in tow, he arrives at the Sauber garage, He enters, and amidst conflicting reports as to whether he has a seat fitting scheduled, or whether a seat ftitting will even take place, he borrows the race suit of Marcus Ericsson, who is only fractionally shorter than him. The suit is quite clearly a tight fit, but Giedo parades around the paddock in it for a few minutes, before handing it back and resuming civilian garb.

Meanwhile, back in court, the contempt of court hearing enters a recess as the court demands information from the Sauber team (namely, a list of their assets) which can only be supplied by their team manager, who is busy due to…a practice for a race.

Back to the racetrack…the Sauber team does not run at all in Free Practice 1. The drivers get into the cars, and the engines are even briefly started, but nothing further happens, and after 30+ minutes the drivers get back out again, and it becomes apparent that Sauber will not run in this session.

Van Der Garde leaves the circuit, having ensured that he was present and available at the start of FP1 to take his rightful seat in a car.

Sauber does run in free Practice 2, their cars turning a wheel under power for the first time this weekend.

Meanwhile, back at court, the hearing re-commences, but is soon adjourned until Saturday morning, as it is announced by the judge that both parties have entered negotiations for an agreed settlement. The first sign of sanity breaking out?

Episode 2 – Saturday morning 

The hearing re-commences in court, but it is immediately announced that the parties have reached an agreement that means that Giedo van der Garde will not drive or attempt to drive for Sauber in Australia. The parties will continue to negotiate a full and final settlment after the Grand Prix weekend.

So…what does this all mean?

Firstly, contrary to some headlines, there has not been a settlement. All that has happened is that Sauber has, probably by making concessions, persuaded Giedo van der Garde to stop trying to drive for the team in Australia, and he and his lawyers have also withdrawn their application for an order of contempt in the Victoria courts. Van Der Garde still reserves the right to claim his seat in subsequent races (starting with the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2 weeks’ time) and, until there is a full settlement of the dispute over the contract, Sauber is still potentially subject to court orders and (if it fails to comply with them) contempt of court rulings.

The cynic in me says that Sauber, which until Friday morning was playing a game of careful, non-provocative non-compliance with the court order, may have been reminded by FOM that while publicity out of season is fine and dandy, an F1 race weekend is about the show on track, and courtroom soap operas undermine the show on track.

The realist in me concludes that (a) Giedo Van Der Garde and his advisors realized that there was little chance of him driving this weekend, mostly due to the Superlicense issue, and (b) Sauber realized that further non-compliance would inevitably result in an order of contempt, probably resulting in the sequestration of its on-track assets, which would prevent it from joining the FOM transport process to Malaysia. This would then require it to freight its equipment separately to Malaysia at great expense, requiring it to pay money up front that it may not have.

Hence the negotiation and announcement of what is merely a temporary truce. (Rumor in the sport is that Van Der Garde has been paid $3m by Sauber for breach of his contract to drive in Australia).

If common sense persists, we may get a full settlement before Malaysia, which will end the elaborate games of legal Whack-A-Mole that we have seen in Australia. However, if insufficient sense materializes, the process of Van Der Garde obtaining local court orders and then attempting to get into the car could continue. He certainly has the money to pursue this course of action, and he has an aribitration ruling, and Australian appeal court decisions in his favour. Sauber, on the other hand, will soon run out of options, to the point where its cars and equipment could end up impounded in a foreign country, which would effectively end its existence as an operating entity. Its sponsors right now are also probably yelling down phones “sort this damn mess out”.

The main impediments to a settlement, apart from possible intransigence by one or both parties, is that Sauber may not have the money in the short term to pay compensation to Van Der Garde for breach of contract. The team is, by all accounts, very short of cash. To be fair, they are not the only team rumoured to have cash flow issues. Lotus and Force India are also short of cash, to the extent that all three teams have been granted advances from FOM of their 2014 prize money payouts to help them in the short term.





Giedo Van Der Garde vs. Sauber F1 Team – Part 5

Having read the published judgment, there are no more stunning revelations. Because the arguments in the court were confined to the matter of applicability of the arbitration award in Australia, there are no juicy revelations about driver contracts, finances etc.  The rulings are brief, as explained by the judge, due to lack of time.

What is interesting is that the original arbitration ruling on March 2nd was made under UK law, not Swiss law, which is what I would have expected since the Sauber team is based in Switzerland.

The court was not impressed by the argument that because Giedo van der Garde BV (the contracting entity with Sauber for the driver contract) and Giedo van der Garde are two separate entities, that the ruling does not really apply to Giedo Van Der Garde the person. Well yes. If I heard that argument in front of me in a court, I would be tempted to respond “nice try…and do you think I came down from the hillside with the last rainstorm?”

The ruling pretty comprehensively demolishes all of the other arguments from Sauber. It will be interesting to see what new arguments they come up with in the afternoon appeal hearing.



Giedo Van Der Garde vs. Sauber – Part 4

Leaving primitive schadenfreude aside, it it always awkward to see one party to a legal action getting its posterior kicked in a court room.

We just witnessed that event in the Victoria Court Of Appeals, when the judge read out a short summary ruling. Giedo Van Der Garde prevailed in his attempt to have the Swiss arbitration verdict upheld in Australia. The court dismissed all of the Sauber team’s arguments, swiftly and comprehensively.

The lawyers for Sauber looked half-shocked, half-demoralized. Beyond asking for a copy of the full detail judgment, they said little. The lawyers for Van Der Garde asked for a signed copy to take to Sauber, and then craftily took the opportunity to remind the court that their client was ready and willing to drive, and would be looking forward to traveling to the circuit. They also pointed out that they had emailed Sauber at 7.45pm on Tuesday evening expressing their willingness to work with the team, but had not yet received a reply (HINT TO COURT – We’re not the ones being unco-operative, your honour).

The judge felt it necessary to point out that the court officers were available 24×7 to resolve any issues (HINT TO DEFENDANTS – You had better be co-operative). Van Der Garde’s lawyer then said “I hope we will not be back in front of you under those circumstances, your honour (HINT TO DEFENDANTS – You heard what the judge said. Be co-operative).

Sauber is clearly simply playing for time, for it has been announced that they intend to appeal the ruling this afternoon. Quite what grounds they intend to argue on I am not sure. Their previous arguments concerning non-enforcement were waved away in today’s ruling. From comments made by Monisha Kaltenborn, it seems that they may try to argue on the issue of safety, but I think that is a long shot.

Everything about the presentation of their case convinces me that Sauber never thought that could win in court, and their tactics seem to be designed to play for time and spin out the legal process to the point where they can either avoid having to run Giedo Van Der Garde, or so that they can claim force majeure and not run at all on the Grand Prix weekend.

This is a real soap opera, but with real characters, lots of money and international finance. The only thing missing is sex.