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.