Voice of the #F1 Fans: Has Monisha Kaltenborn become untenable?

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Brought to you by Fat Hippo

A look into the past

It is the worst kept secret that the expensive new engines have taken a chainsaw to the finances of the smaller teams. Lotus, Sauber, Williams, Force India, Caterham and Marussia – they all were on the brink of collapse at some time or other and only Williams seems to have gotten themselves out of this mess, mainly because of Maldonado’s PDVSA millions and because they have other business ventures that keep the company afloat. Also, they have the name to attract a sponsor like Martini, although word is, that the deal is a relatively cheap one for the drinks company, compared to what title sponsors used to cough up in the days o’ yore.

119828.300x300When Sauber were still dreaming of a Ural 4320 roaring into Hinwil and dumping 8 tons worth of Rubles at the front gate, they activated the option in their test drivers contract that promoted him to regular driver for the 2015. Giedo van der Garde thus had a legally binding contract to drive the Sauber C34. But alas, when Simona de Silvestro’s sponsors ran out of cash, and the Russian White Knights were slapped with some big ol’ sanction because of their president’s rather liberal attitude to the law of nations and the status of select parts of neighbouring Ukraine, the Swiss suddenly found themselves very short of coin

And since this isn’t Age Of Empires, where you just send a few more peasants harvesting the resource from a lump of dreck on the ground, someone, and we had to suspect Mrs. Kaltenborn was at least aware of it, thought it was a good idea to start up a Ponzi scheme to relieve the pressure on the team’s anorexic bank accounts.

Top Ten Tips on how not to use a smartphone.

When Sky Germany TV expert Mark Surer who drove for Arrows and Brabham in the eighties, met Giedo van der Garde in a hotel elevator before the Austin GP, he asked the Dutchman if it wasn’t a bit early yet to leave the track and head back for some Z’s, but VdG answered: “I just got an SMS that I’m fired. I need to call a lawyer.” 

Now lets just gloss over the fact that this has less class than Christian Horner’s approach to the sanctity of marriage, and have a look at what happened.

Sauber were broke, as were several other teams. Two of them were actually missing from the GP. Seeing the chance of scooping up a lot of coin by signing Felipe Nasr and Markus Ericsson, Kaltenborn did so in blatant disregard of the valid contracts the team had signed with van der Garde and Sutil. The reasoning might seem logical – the offer of Ericssons anonymous backers to pay 75% of the dough upfront was the only thing standing between Sauber going bust or struggling on.

Konkursverschleppung n, noun 

This is the Swiss German word for wantonly failing to deposit a bankruptcy petition and putting the company into  Administration. Caterham and Marussia did so, Sauber apparently not, despite the fact that the team claimed in the hearing before the Supreme Court of Victoria, that signing Nasr and Ericsson was the only way to keep the team going.

But is it valid to avoid one criminal offence by committing another? Even more so since either option might constitute financial malpractice – a criminal offence according article 165 of the Swiss criminal code – which carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.

The termination of Sutil’s and VdG’s contracts was unlawful, which meant Sauber had now contracted four paying drivers for only two seats. In most parts of the world that approach would be described with the word fraud.

The consequences for Sauber and Formula 1

I’m starting to wonder, what team founder Peter Sauber is thinking now about the appointment of Monisha Kaltenborn. His silence in these matters is deafening. One thing is for sure. As the one ultimately responsible for the team’s business decisions, there is no way Monisha Kaltenborn could remain in charge of the team. The operation, that once stood for Swiss integrity and solid management, has been dragged through the mud in the worst way by her mismanagement. And not only has she damaged the team that was entrusted to her, she also took the proverbial wrecking ball to the cause of providing better opportunities for women in the male dominated world of F1.

At the time of writing this, the ruling on Sauber’s appeal is still a few hours away, but no matter what Judge Croft will decide, there will only be losers. F1 will have its image damaged even further. The fact that a competitor with 20 years experience needs to be dragged before court repeatedly to honour their contractual obligations is a PR disaster and makes the sport look like it’s being run by crooks… oh wait… scratch that.

The team will die one way or the other. They either have to cough up large damage payments that they don’t have, so they’ll die. Or they will lose either Nasr or Ericsson, together with many sponsor millions, will have to pay damages to them and Sutil and they’ll die. Or Bernie does his thing by throwing gazillions at the problem to make it go away. In that case Sauber might struggle on, but they’ll be dead still. The sympathetic image they once had is truly and utterly destroyed. They have become the epitome of ruthless capitalistic cowboys. Not something that wins a lot of fans.

What if Sauber wins the appeal?

There are only two realistic options on which Sauber could ‘win’ this. If the Judge goes by the ‘not enough time’ route, Sauber will be stigmatized for their cynical stalling for time. Not that their image can be thrashed any further.

If His Honour buys the line of bull that says VdG is too dangerous, it would plunge F1 into utter chaos. FIA would have to adjust their rules regarding the wheeling in of replacement drivers. Teams would have to give up a sizeable portion of their limited winter testing to their reserve drivers to make sure they can use them should one of their regulars fall ill during a GP weekend.

Manor wouldn’t be able to start at all, as both their drivers have never run the MR4.5.

Hippo’s verdict

There is but one practical solution to this. Sauber needs to be banned from the race for bringing the sport into disrepute. That gives them time to remove Kaltenborn, sort out the contractual mess they’ve made and come back in Malaysia, after publicly apologizing for the utter show of travesty they’ve been presenting. That is if they survive. If they don’t, they have nobody else to blame but themselves.

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30 responses to “Voice of the #F1 Fans: Has Monisha Kaltenborn become untenable?

  1. Well. On the one hand I am Austrian and Ms. Kaltenborn is as well, more or less. On the other hand, what she has done to Sauber in her few years in charge brings tears to my eyes.

    A question which needs to be asked however: how can she be removed from her position in the team? Ever since she became CEO of all Sauber companies (no idea what that entails, but the news I read was worded that way), she owns one third of everything, while the other two thirds belong to old Peter Sauber, who has remained utterly silent the whole time.

    • She can be removed with a unanimous vote of no confidence by the board members.

  2. Women just think differently and Peter Sauber should’ve know that before giving the Indo/Austrian or whatever she is Monisha 30% of his shareholding in Sauber. Whilst that is a slight jokey remark the fact that a lawyer blatantly flaunts the law is no joke. She deserves what she gets wherever that may be….

    • Dave Coen -> “Women just think differently and Peter Sauber should’ve know that…”

      Do you mean that if Monisha was a man this wouldn’t have happened?

      (sniff… sniff; hey d’ya smell that? It smells like misogyny, doesn’t it?)

      • Technically, there’s probably some truth to it.. female brains fire across hemispheres all the time while male brains fire inside each hemisphere almost exclusively. It’s why we ‘struggle’ with multi-tasking…

    • Flout, not Flaunt…. Lawyers are allowed to flaunt the law, but flouting it is quite another matter!

  3. She has brought utter disrepute to the team which her father carried through all the years. The team that had given so many good drivers and a team that served as a talent pool for bigger teams. She should be removed and her father should take over the reigns again.

  4. I agree with the conclusion, however bitter it might be for all F1 fans.
    This has gone way too far, and FIA AND FOM should also act quickly now as to not let Sauber damage the sport anymore than they have already done……shame on Mrs. Kaltenborn, she started out well but has made quit a mess of it 😉

  5. The Fat Hippo said, “FIA would have to adjust their rules regarding the wheeling in of replacement drivers.”

    Why must the FIA do that?

    • If VdG is not allowed to race for ‘safety’ reasons because of lack of seat time then other new drivers would also be a safety issue and not allowed to drive. Fat Hippo is simply saying that will not happen and VdG should be allowed to drive.

    • If VdG is declared to dangerous to run, so are Stevens and Merhi or any future substitution driver who hasn’t done an extensive testing program in the car he/she is supposed to drive on short notice.
      Fisico to Ferrari in 2009, de la Rosa in the Sauber in 2011, Lotterer in the Caterham last year, Kovalainen stepping in for Kimi at Lotus – They would all have been considered too dangerous if Sauber’s lame-ass resoning is allowed to stand

      • Again, what does the FIA have to do with this?

        It’s not just you, but others, including Adam Cooper, who have apparently misunderstood Sauber’s safety argument.

        Sauber’s argument is there is not enough time to prepare car and driver for each other.

        While Sauber’s safety argument is weak (to be very kind!), I don’t see how it relates to the FIA, and how the FIA determines if a driver is safe enough for F1. The FIA looks at a driver’s skills, and experience. The FIA have little to say about how snug and comfortable a seat is to an individual’s body, or how much study and sim-time a driver has done to prepare for a race.

        Correct me if I’ve misunderstood your argument.

        • Geez Vortex……..Pretty much ANY driver with a Super License should be qualified to drive an F1 car, ya think? Fitting a seat is not that big a deal, as the outer structure of the seat is defined by the FIA so that the driver can be removed while in it if case of injury. Fitting the driver to the seat can involve pouring a foam seat while the driver is seated, to support the driver’s upper body, etc. I used to do this all the time when I ran rental FF. There are other methods also. Sauber would already have made a seat for VdG, as they ’employed’ him last year. Adjusting pedals, steering wheel, belts, etc. is not a two week task.

          So, the FIA determines ‘if a driver is safe enough for F1’ by giving him a license. Except for Maldonado.

          • Gomer, yes, we’re in 100% agreement. As I mentioned, “Sauber’s safety argument is weak (to be very kind!)”, and as you described very well, Sauber’s argument is very, very weak. (Manor did a seat-fitting in their OZ garage earlier today in ~4 hours or less.)

            The FIA Super License system addresses driver safety well.

            Fat Hippo thinks the FIA will need to update their safety regs in response to this arbitration hearing, but that’s just a simple mis-understanding of Sauber’s rather weak “safety” argument, (team’s responsibilities vs FIA’s responsibilities).

  6. This just cracked me up… lol

    “The fact that a competitor with 20 years experience needs to be dragged before court repeatedly to honour their contractual obligations is a PR desaster and makes the sport look like it’s being run by crooks… oh wait… scratch that.”

    And unfortunately this is also the reason that it is unlikely than any bad press will have a big influence on the team’s popularity or ability to attract drivers and sponsors. The allure of driving in F1 is bigger than the risks of dealing with dodgy teams brings to a driver or a sponsor. Same can be said about Giedo’s chances of getting a seat with a new team (F1 or not). A lot of people have blamed Giedo for not getting the big picture and that it will tarnish his reputation and which make it difficult for him to get a seat in the future. The cynic in me says that as long as there are teams in need of cash and there are drivers who can provide than it doesn’t matter how bad their reputation is, money always speaks louder 🙁

    • Erricson for example is a no talent driver, heck, even Loterrer last year drove better even though that was his first time behind Caterhams wheel! Better take Monisha out before she ruins Sauber completely!

  7. I think your conclusion, Hippo, is the only sensible outcome at this point.

  8. Kaltenborn’s actions are not much different from what Lotus did in 2011. For some reason, teams, specially struggling teams, think that driver contracts are worth less than the paper they’re printed on and so they can change pay drivers like women change clothes. I hope van der Garde wins the lawsuit and this serves as a lesson to the rest.

    • Yep, that’s exactly what I think, so I’m rooting for Giedo, oh by the way, he did win the case but guess what, the team won’t provide him with a superlicense! (even though he says that he sees no problems there)

  9. @FatHippo, I said I lady week and I’ll say it again today, you have Bern on fire my friend. You have been spot on just recently. This article is no exception.
    Good writing.

  10. In The Last Few Years, SAUBER Has Dumped All The Good Drivers They Have Had.

    They Should Of Kept At Least 1 For The Following Season.

    In All The Consecutive 22 Seasons They Are In F1, 2014 Was The Very First Year They Had *ZERO* Points.

    I Really Do Not Care About Teams, Although I Have A Small Spot For Some Of Them.

    If 2 Drivers Have A Dispute, I Will Take Sides On A Case By Case Basis.

    If A Day Comes, And A Driver Has A Dispute With A Team, And I Side With The Team, Then On That Day I Am Ready For The Glue Factory, Period.

    GO, 44 !

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