Giedo van der Garde vs Sauber F1 Team – part 3

The Day In Court is now over. The court has reserved its judgment until Wednesday morning.

Although the court reports are fragmented, and mostly concern tabloidesque claims made by the lawyer representing Sauber, it is clear that Sauber’s defence of their position did not involve arguing that they are not in breach of contract. Instead, the arguments advanced in court by the Sauber lawyer seemed to consist mostly of dire warnings and predictions, and outright falsehoods. The claim that Van Der Garde has no Superlicense is easily disproved, and Van Der Garde’s lawyer disposed of it during his time at the podium by passing his Superlicense documentation to the judge. The claims that Van Der Garde cannot fit the 2015 car, that he does not have a seat, insurance etc. are all flim-flam. As others have pointed out, at one race weekend Sauber put Pedro De La Rosa in the car at something like 15 minutes’ notice. That does tend to undermine arguments like this. Van Der Garde has a race seat from 2014 which will probably fit the new car, unless Sauber destroyed it.

Worst of all was the argument that Giedo Van Der Garde could be at physical danger if he tried to drive the car. Well, duh. Formula 1 is a sport involving drivers strapped into high-speed projectiles hurtling around racetracks. This could be dangerous? After the break – water is wet, and the Sun rises in the East.

The lawyer for Van Der Garde appeared to spend a lot of his time explaining the contractual background to the dispute, but because that is kind of complicated, most of that has yet to appear in reports. The reports so far mostly focussed on the Sauber “we are all doomed if we put Giedo in the car” arguments.

These arguments advanced by Sauber seem to be so inept and lacking in substance that one is forced to ask why they put up such a poor performance. It is almost as if they were going through the motions. I am wondering if there is a hidden agenda at work.

Also notable was the presence in court of Felipe Nasr, Marcus Ericsson, and lawyers representing them. If Sauber had a strong case, there would have been no need for them to be present. The fact that they felt it necessary to be there tells me that they have little confidence in Sauber’s defense. Their threat to sue Sauber if either Nasr or Ericsson is denied a drive is somewhat predictable, but should not be of any interest to the court. They are not parties to the current dispute. If Sauber is found to be required to run Giedo Van Der Garde, then Sauber has to sort out the issue of competing contracts.

I stand by my assertion that Sauber has to sort this mess out before they find themselves on the back foot in a game of legal Whack-A-Mole with Van Der Garde’s lawyers. Right now, F1 is in the headlines for the wrong reasons.


Giedo van der Garde vs. Sauber (continued)

I have been reading lots of odd and illogical comments about this legal action in the last couple of days. Some more thoughts:

1. For as long as motor racing teams have existed, teams have been screwing drivers, and drivers have been screwing teams. The sport is full of tales of drivers and sponsors whose promised cheques either never arrived, or bounced higher than the local television tower when they did arrive. Often this occurred after the team had already incurred the expense of running a driver, branding etc. etc. for months. Some teams have gone out of business as a result. Equally, teams have taken sponsorship money from sponsors and/or drivers, then failed to honour their side of the bargain. It is up to both parties in deals like this to protect their own interests.

2. Sauber, by all acounts, is precariously financed, and probably needed a lot more money than they had on hand in October 2014 to get through the Winter and design and build their 2015 car. However, a funding crisis isn’t going to fly in court as a defence against a breach of contract lawsuit. The court will look at the facts before them, and are unlikely to be swayed by claims that the team will go out of business if the court finds against it. The attitude will be “well, you shouldn’t have broken contracts. Your problem”.

3. The court action in Australia is not the end game. As I understand it, Giedo van der Garde and his legal team are simply asking the court to rule that the arbitration decision in his favour in Switzerland is enforceable in Australia. If the court rules that it is, then we move to the next stage, where his lawyers will attempt to negotiate a settlement from Sauber. Implicit in the negoitations will be the threat that if Sauber does not comply, they will go to a local court to either force the team to put him in the car at Melbourne, or to demand some other commercial or financial sanction, which could (in extremis) include seizing team assets. If the court rules that the arbitration decision is not enforceable in Australia, this is not necessarily the end of the matter. Giedo van der Garde can still take legal action in Switzerland, which is where Sauber is based, or he can ask another country to rule that the judgment is enforceable in that country. We could be seeing the beginnings of a lengthy game of legal Whack-A-Mole, unless van der Garde does have another F1 option (which can only be Manor/Marussia).

If F1 is at all concerned about its public image, it should be working behind the scenes to broker a resolution to this dispute. The sight of bailiffs marching into the paddock to lock up the Sauber garages at a Grand Prix weekend will not play well in the media worldwide, should that happen.



Giedo Van Der Garde vs. Sauber F1 Team

The news has broken that Giedo Van Der Garde is to take legal action in Australia next week over what he claims is a breach of contract by Sauber, when they replaced him for 2015 by one of Felipe Nasr or Marcus Ericsson, despite him apparently having already signed for the team for 2015.

A Swiss Court of Arbitration has apparently ruled that Van Der Garde did have a valid contract for 2015. It appears that the court action in Australia is a request for enforcement of the arbitrator’s decision in Australia. This would place Van Der Garde in a strong position to possibly enforce the arbitration decision via legal action to impound the team’s cars and other assets when they arrive in Australia for the Grand Prix.

Some thoughts on this:

1. Van Der Garde has already successfully sued another F1 team over contractual matters. He won a court case in 2010 against Force India (they were actually entered as Spyker at the time of the original contract) over F1 testing mileage, and eventually collected compensation from the team. The court judgement is worth a read, since it provides a fascinating window into the behind-the-scenes processes by which drivers get testing roles in F1, and how those arrangements can rapidly unravel.

2. It is not clear what relief is useful for Van Der Garde if the court in Australia rules in his favour. As has been pointed out by Joe Saward on his blog, forcing Sauber to run him in 2015 is not exactly logical or smart for multiple reasons; he will be paying an unwilling team for a drive in a car that he has not even sat in, let alone tested. The only reason that suing the team makes sense is if he made a down-payment for 2015 when he signed his contract, and is still in dispute with the team over the down-payment.

3. If Sauber decides to tough it out and meet Van Der Garde in court, they have to be prepared for the possibility of an adverse ruling. This would throw their entire 2015 sponsorship up in the air from a legal and commercial standpoint, since running Van Der Garde would force them to stand down one of either Felipe Nasr or Marcus Ericsson, which would in turn carry negative contractual and financial implications for the team.

4. F1 team owners and bosses tend to not look good when cross-examined in court cases. Most recently, Eddie Jordan was excoriated by a High Court judge in the UK when Jordan Grand Prix attempted to sue Vodafone over a title sponsorship deal that ended up with Ferrari. The sort of business practices that seem to be the norm in F1 tend to be viewed by many legal jurisdictions as sharp practice at best.

It really will not be good for Sauber as a team to be forced to defend their position in court. I anticipate an out of court resolution, which may cost Sauber money and leave them struggling later in the season. A number of people experienced in matters F1 have commented that Sauber had to sign their current two drivers for 2015 in order to be able to get funds to survive the winter, and they are still in a precarious financial position.

It is possible that Sauber may also face legal action from their other former driver, Adrian Sutil, according to Auto Motor Und Sport.


The Texas 25% rule

When driving conditions are bad in Texas, the population of drivers can be divided into four categories:

25% of drivers drive as if it is a nice sunny day, and then some of them wonder why they just left the road, violated fundamental laws of physics etc.
25% of drivers set off at incredibly low speed, tiptoeing down the road with their nervous eyes darting around inside their head-on-a-swivel. They get in everybiody’s way and they are a menace because you don’t know what they are going to do next
25% of drivers adjust their driving to the conditions, and make it from point A to point B without getting in an accident or causing collateral damage
25% of drivers stay home


The Dullness of modern F1 cars

A discussion has started up at James Allen’s blog about why modern f1 cars are deathly dull to look at. Here is my contribution.
The dullness of modern F1 cars is a combination of several factors:

1. Too much empty space on the cars. Teams cannot get sponsors, but they refuse to lower their rate cards. As a result, blank space predominates on many cars
2. Loss of sponsorship from B2C companies. Most sponsors are big-ticket B2B corporations, with very understated logos and images. They are not snazzy and exciting – they are not trying to attract Joe Blow and his family members
3. Perpetuation of a car shape profile that is based around irrelevant aero, and 18 inch rims, which no manufacturer would use on a performance road car.

Ideas for change?
Well, a cost cap with teeth is desperately needed, but it seems that the F1 governance model is broken right now, so that may be as likely as pigs flying. In the meantime, I want to see the axe taken to aero (no front and rear wings, partial wheel fairings, opening of underbody aero rules), a modest increase in horsepower (no, not 1000bhp, who apart from the factory teams can afford to pay for it?), harder tyres on 13 inch rims, and a move to social media the hell out of F1 weekends. Absent significant change in these key areas, F1 is going to continue as a declining sport based on a broken business model.


Quick Items – 27th January 2015

Why managers hate Agile – Part 1
Excellent blog posting that surfaces some of the obvious reasons why many managers and leaders in large corporations dislike Agile. The main takeaway – it conflicts with the top-down command-and-control model that is still prevalent in many large corporations.

The way that most corporations recruit is fundamentally flawed, and has been for decades. Here is an interesting and different approach to recruitment.

Discrimination against the unemployed
Academic research confirms what many people have suspected – employers and recruiters don’t like the unemployed and go out of their way to not hire them. Which proves that you should never admit to being unemployed, either in a cover letter or a resume.


Peyton Manning – What Next?

For the third time in 3 years, the Broncos came up short in the playoffs. This time, they were one and done. Today, they did not look even like they were able to stay with the Colts. By the end of the third quarter. the Broncos looked like a team with little in the way of offensive ideas.
More seriously, Peyton Manning, when he did throw deep, looked horrible. Either he and his receivers had never practiced any deep plays recently, or his accuracy was absent. Balls sailed, floated and wobbled in the air, falling incomplete or landing out of bounds. The only good thing is that none of them were intercepted.
The Broncos loaded up on savvy veteran players at a number of skill positions to complement Manning after they signed him in 2011. The veterans are not getting any younger. The team is in good salary cap shape for 2015 and beyond, but if Peyton does retire, they will probably enter a re-building phase. They may soon be looking for a new offensive co-ordinator. Adam Gase is in demand for head coaching positions at present, so he may be gone from the Broncos soon. (The latest rumour mill is that John Fox may be pre-emptively fired by the Broncos for failure to advance in the playoffs, so that the Broncos can promote Gase to the head coach position to prevent him from leaving). Not only that, but defensive co-ordinator Jack Del Rio is also rumoured to be interviewing for head coaching positions, so if they are unlucky, the Broncos may be looking at a coaching overhaul on both sides of the ball.
Manning’s contract salary in 2015 is $19m, which is top of the line franchise money. The question is whether he can play at that level next season.
People have wondered for years why Manning has such a poor playoff record compared to other top flight quarterbacks. My take on this is that he has a poor record because he commits himself 100% to off-season preparation and work, so that he performs, week in and week out, at an astonishingly high level. The downside is that when you reach the playoffs, Peyton does not suddenly become even better, he is already operating at 100%. Other team QBs raise their game, this is the playoffs, lose and you go home.
The question that only Peyton can answer is whether he can continue to play at a level that meets his own standards next year. If he decides he cannot, I am sure that he will retire. I cannot conceive of an athlete of Manning’s intelligence and integrity phoning it in, hanging around when everybody can see that his skills have diminished.
One aspect that sets most smart athletes apart from the rest is their level of self-awareness. They know when to move on. There is nothing sadder than athletes who suffer from the “one last fight” syndrome that boxers fall into, a script which never ends happily. Not all great athletes are able to let go of course. Jerry Rice played into his 40’s, until he reached the point where Mike Shanahan had to sit him down and inform him that he might not even make the Broncos roster as their #4 wide receiver. Then he finally realized he had to retire. His love for the game overrode any consideration of his level of play. Of course, he might simply have not known what to do after retiring from playing, an affliction that has derailed the lives of many professional athletes. I do not think that Peyton Manning will be short of well-paid things to do after he retires. He is a natural for TV work, and his endorsement portfolio has the revenue stream of a small country.
My $0.02? Sometime in the next 2 months, Peyton Manning will retire from playing.
UPDATE – That was fast…John Fox is leaving as the Broncos head coach, less than 24 hours after the end of the Broncos’ season.…the entire coaching team may be heading in all sorts of different directions over the next few weeks. If coaches suspect that Peyton Manning is retiring, they may not want to wait to see what rebuilding takes place, they may want to stay in control of their destiny and get out ahead of any re-organization.


Refereeing in the Cowboys – Packers game

More controversy, as a pass from Tony Romo to Dez Bryant was declared to be an incompletion after a challenge by Green Bay.
The rule in question has been in place for several years. It always causes trouble for referees and causes angst amongst teams and spectators. However, based on the TV replays and comments from experts, the referees interpreted the rule correctly in this case.
So, the Cowboys run comes to an end. This is merely the beginning of what could be an interesting Spring and Summer for the team. They do have salary cap space for 2015 but may have to get creative to re-sign the marquee players and draft class. Several of their marquee players are free agents, including DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant. They also currently have no head coach. As I write this, Jason Garrett just became a free agent.


The refereeing in the Cowboys-Lions game

The offensive pass interference non-call in the Cowboys-Lions game is causing much online angst, as many people blame the incident for the Lions’ loss.
First off, we have to gain better perspective. The ultimate bad outcome in a game is where the wrong call (or no call) decides a game on a point-scoring play. This was not a point-scoring play. If the call had been confirmed, the Lions would only have gained a first down. A first down is not points on the board. The Lions might have scored, they might not. Hell, they might have thrown an INT. So claiming that this call decided the game is nonsense.
Secondly, as you can see from the video review, a proper call might well have been offensive pass interference. The Lions player appears to grab the Cowboy player’s facemask earlier in the play. To the people demanding replay for pass interference calls, be careful what you wish for.
Thirdly, this media firestorm would not have occurred if the Lions had scored more points in the second half of the game. They could not score points because the Cowboys defense played better than their offense. When a team resorts to complaining about a single call as being responsible for their defeat, you know you are dealing with a situation where they failed to win the game by on-field play. (I remember after the Giants beat the Patriots in Superbowl XLII, Bill Belichick waved off questions about the David Tyree helmet catch by pointing out that the Patriots were unlikely to win any Superbowl if they only scored 14 points).
Smart players and coaches often point out that single calls are a side issue. Other less smart folks play the “woe is us” card.
Fourthly, the major contributor to issues like this is the NFL rule book, which is hilariously complicated, and continually becomes more complicated. Every year some more subtle caveats and wrinkles are added to the rules, and the job of officiating becomes more and more complex. At the same time, the clamor is for more and more calls to be reviewable, usually after a contentious incident like the Cowboys-Lions incident.
The NFL and its consumers cannot have it both ways. Either the referees are in charge, in which case give them a simpler rule book and rely on them, or the referees are not in charge, in which case let’s make every call on the field of play subject to review. (I’m joking, this latter scenario will never occur, because it would result in games lasting 4+ hours, which the TV networks will not support).
Fifthly – How come the NFL, the most valuable sports league in the world in terms of team values, TV rights and other financial measures, does not have full-time on-field officials? This is crazy. The officials are all doing this work as an adjunct to their day jobs. Think about that for a moment and you will realize that they are being asked to get everything right 100% of the time off of a very complex rule book in front of hundreds of millions of people, in their spare time? How many things are fundamentally wrong with that picture?
Firing officials is often proposed as a sanction for bad calls. Left unexplained is how continual churn of officiating crews is going to improve overall quality of officiating. If you accept that the NFL is the most challenging environment in which to get officiating right (and the poor performance of the replacement officials in the 2012 lockout tends to suggest that), then forced ranking and firing of the bottom tier of officials might make some teams feel better, but it is unlikely to improve the levels of officiating. You have to look at it from the perspective of an official. Why should they volunteer for a part-time job, working in a high-pressure public environment, from which they can potentially be fired for one bad call?
Support for that is coming from within the football commentariat. A contributory factor being cited for Sunday’s issue is that the match referee did not have his normal officiating crew – he was working with a crew assembled just for this playoff game.
(By the way, the NFL has, just like the individual teams and their treatment of the cheerleaders, tried to nickel-and-dime the officials on several different levels, including compensation if the referees are full-time employees. This was one of the issues that led to the 2012 lockout and the replacement officials fiasco. )
My conclusion is that there is a lot of air being moved over this issue, but a lot of the air is carrying hyperbole and BS. The underlying issues are the over-complex NFL rule book, the desire to get every call right that continually expands the reviewable calls list, thus making games even longer, and the chiseling approach of the NFL to referees, whereby they seem to be trying to get high quality officiating on the cheap. In most areas of life, you get what you pay for (or not).


The FIA attempt to intimidate Gary Hartstein

Gary Hartstein used to be the the on-track F1 lead phsyician. He took over the role after the retirement of the late Professor Sydney Watkins, and held it until he was suddenly fired by the FIA.

Hartstein works at a hospital in Liege, Belgium, and writes a blog where he opines on matters of medical and motor racing interest. He commented earlier this year on the challenges facing Michael Schumacher. More recently he has commented on the aftermath of the tragic incident that injured Jules Bianchi.

More recently, something part laughable, part-sinister occured in Hartstein’s world, when Gerard Saillant of the FIA visited his employer in Liege, making all manner of claims about Hartstein’s blogging activity, and asking them to either prevent him from blogging or fire him.

Everything in Hartstein’s account of the incident suggests that the FIA is behaving like a collection of thin-skinned, censorious bullies. Not only that, but their actions in attempting to induce Hartstein’s employer to order him to cease blogging or to fire him leave them vulnerable to civil legal action.
I have seen similar attempts here in the USA by practitioners and sellers of pseudo-medical woo to silence critics. This long blog posting from Dr David Gorski shows how one of this critics started emailing his place of work complaining about him, after Gorski skewered his shrill and threatening emails sent to him personally.
If Gary Hartstein decides to take legal action against Gerard Saillant, he and the FIA are going to be in a very difficult position. By including an email purporting to come from Corinna Schumacher in the “evidence”, they have ensured that if legal action occurs, she will be a person of interest to the court. She may even be asked to testify, and if she is cross-examined, she may find herself answering questions about Michael Schumacher’s condition. I cannot imagine her being willing to subject herself to that kind of process. If she does not stand behind the email, then things will not go well for Saillant. He will be the #1 defendant, subject to cross-examination about who paid for his trip. If it was paid for by the FIA, it automatically makes the FIA a defendant in any legal action, and that risks dragging Saillant’s boss Jean Todt into the case also, especially if he authorized the effort to muzzle Hartstein.
I cannot see how this will turn out well for Gerard Saillant or the FIA. IMHO Saillant’s FIA career just ended. If Hartstein takes legal action, the FIA will most likely have to claim that he was freelancing and get rid of him. To do anything less will most likely drag them into court as the other defendants to a lawsuit that they will find very difficult to defend.

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