Now that the case has been settled, Kyle Archer looks over Giedo van der Garde’s court case against Sauber, for The Sport Space.
Following a week of court appearances in the build up to the season opening Australian Grand Prix, Giedo van der Garde has reached a settlement with Sauber for the termination of his contract. The Dutchman will receive €15 million, but how did cash strapped Sauber come up with the money so quickly?
Originally Giedo had signed a contract with Sauber at the start of last year under the terms of ‘driving, testing and promotional services agreement’. However the team later decided to exercise an option within the contract that meant he would race in 2015. At the same time, van der Garde handed over a substantial amount of money that helped the team survive the year.
But come November 24th, things had changed significantly and Giedo, along with ex-Sauber drivers Sutil and Gutierrez, where all left without a race seat for the upcoming season. Sauber’s decision to axe the three drivers came down to Nasr and Ericsson providing a larger cash sum in sponsorship payments.
This left the three in a situation none would have liked, even though Giedo and Sutil both had contracts to race in 2015. But without being named as the teams drivers, this would never be the situation.
Yet Giedo decided to fight the team with legal action in order to force them to honour the contract they signed. The first stage of this process saw van der Garde open arbitration proceeding in the Swiss Chambers’ Arbitration Institution. Here he: “sought permanent injunctive relief that would have the effect of assuring the Second Applicant a place as a race driver on the Sauber team for 2015.”
Four months later and the decision came in. On March 2nd, just two weeks before the Australian Grand Prix, the Swiss Chambers’ Arbitration Institution sided with the driver and Giedo had the right to drive.
But Sauber refused to budge and let the Dutchman step into the car. Instead they found themselves stepping into a court in Australia for another round of legal action.
During the first day of the case, Sauber claimed that running Giedo would be dangerous and unsafe given the C34 was custom built for Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson. Sauber’s lawyer Rodney Garrett also claimed that there were issues about seats and seat belts, questioned the safety of spectators at the Australian Grand Prix and stated Giedo was not covered by the team’s insurance. More worryingly Garrett brought up concerns of death if van der Garde was allowed to race.
“Sauber could not allow him to race… it would be reckless and dangerous to do otherwise. It would result in an unacceptable risk of physical harm or even death.”
The following day came, and with his Justice Croft’s first decision of the week. Giedo had won and legally had the right to race for Sauber. But the team appealed the decision, delaying the potential for Giedo to obtain a superlicence after Sauber tore up his contract and they are the ones who have to apply for it.
Now just three days away from the Australian Grand Prix and a decision was made by the three court of appeal judges. They agreed with Justice Croft’s decision earlier in the week and now Giedo’s camp launched another action.
This time it was a Contempt of Court Application, to try and force Sauber into cooperating after the team had not yet complied with the order to allow Giedo to race, or taken any steps to make it happen.
After intensive overnight discussions, Giedo’s camp’s application was withdrawn and van der Garde had relinquished his right to race for Sauber. So in the end, the case held at the Supreme Court of Victoria lasted five days but the resolution did not come in a court room.
Instead the two parties discussions lead to Sauber handing over €15 million to the Dutchman as compensation. Sauber also had to pay for Giedo’s legal costs as part of the ruling in court.
So where does that leave van der Garde now?
Simply put, it leaves Giedo without a drive or contract anywhere but he feels this is ‘a new beginning’.
He now intends to sit down with his management to discuss his future, which could involve a change of racing category and race in the World Endurance Championship at the Le Mans 24 hours.
In a statement published on Giedo’s Facebook page, he describes how hard it was for him to come to his decision and what he hopes this case has on the future of Formula One.
Giedo explained: ‘We have reached a settlement with Sauber and my driver contract with the team has been ended by mutual consent. As a passionate race driver, I feel sad and am very disappointed. I have worked very hard my entire career, ever since starting with go-karts at the age of eight, to live my dream and become a successful Formula One driver. I had hoped at last to be able to show what I am capable of, driving a car for a respected midfield team in the 2015 season. This dream has been taken away from me and I know that my future in Formula One is probably over.
‘I am a race driver and all I want is to race. However, the team principal was adamant not to let me drive, notwithstanding my legal rights to do so and a series of rulings and court orders in my favour and despite my race driving abilities. I will never understand this. I could have persisted, but the team principal had taken a decision contrary to my contract that she would not work with me and this became painfully clear in the paddock in Melbourne. To push on against this determination might have brought down the team, it would most certainly have wrecked the opening Grand Prix in Melbourne because the team´s cars would have been seized by the court, it may have ruined the careers of two young drivers Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr. Possibly the team´s directors would even be taken into custody. I decided I did not want to live with that idea, even though it was only the team’s management that was responsible for the bizarre situation I found myself in.
‘My future in motorsport has not finished: on the contrary, I see this as a new beginning. I will sit down with my management in the coming weeks to discuss my future plans. I would love to take part in the WEC and the Le Mans 24 Hours in an LMP1 car. Former Formula One drivers do very well in this series. We also have our eye on other series such as the DTM in 2016 and beyond.
‘There has been a lot of speculation in the media over the past week, so I want to set out clearly that my sponsors paid the sponsorship fee related to the 2015 season in its entirety to Sauber in the first half of 2014. This was simply in good faith and to help the team deal with its cash problems at the time. Effectively, it was my sponsor’s advanced payments that helped the team survive in 2014.
“My sponsors paid the sponsorship fee related to the 2015 season in its entirety to Sauber in the first half of 2014.”
‘Finally, I would like to direct a few words to the teams, drivers, future drivers, their managers and the Formula One governing bodies. I sincerely hope that what has happened to me will start a movement aimed at setting new standards and bringing about new regulations to help protect the rights of drivers. I would like to think that the values and business ethics that apply in any other business should be equally applicable in Formula One.
‘There are numerous examples of talented drivers with good intentions but without the sort of professional support that I have had, who have been broken by Formula One and who have seen their careers destroyed. I therefore hope that my unprecedented case which was heard last week by the Supreme Court of Victoria at Melbourne will serve as an example to illustrate what should change, and that new regulations will be implemented to help protect driver rights.’