What a start to a Formula One season; we have one team arrive with almost no hope of their cars doing a single lap; a previous multiple championship winning team whose cars look incapable of completing even half race distance; and Sauber, who will have spent more time in the Supreme Court in Victoria than is available for their cars to run on track.
The state of play is that Giedo van der Garde’s legal team has requested the Victoria court hold Sauber in contempt of a court order. The penalty for this could see their cars seized and directors of the company jailed.
Sauber were ordered by Justice Croft to ensure Van der Garde was in the car this weekend. “Do nothing to prevent this”, the judge ordered earlier in the week.
Yet Sauber have clearly disobeyed this order from the court because at the time it was made, Charlie Whiting confirmed there was still time for Giedo to be granted his F1 super license. But the Swiss team chose not to play their part in the relatively simple application process for the Dutchman’s license.
This failure to act is clearly in contempt of the court order and it is difficult to see Justice Croft ruling that it is not.
The judge adjourned today’s hearing before FP1 began. No Sauber cars were seen during that session. This was clearly an attempt by Sauber not to exacerbate matters. Further, the threat of the team being forced to withdraw from all sessions of the Australian GP was the catalyst for Kaltenborn to open discussions with Van der Garde’s legal team.
By the time the judge returned, Giedo’s counsel advised justice Croft that there had been “constructive discussions between the parties which are expected to continue this evening”.
Justice croft decided to adjourn the hearing again until 09:30 on Saturday and advised, “I do wish the parties to talk seriously about resolving this matter by agreement.”
Subsequently, Monisha Kaltenborn was forced to attend the FIA press conference for the team principals. She refused to answer most questions due to the ongoing legal proceedings, however one question she did not duck.
Kaltenborn was asked whether she still had the confidence of the the Swiss team’s founder Peter Sauber. She replied impassively, “This whole matter does not have any effect on the way we work, the way the team works and Peter Sauber is the chairman of our company and he’s continued to be in that position. His role has not changed”.
Apparently there is no vote of confidence from Peter Sauber for his beleaguered CEO who allowed her team to sign four driver’s to race just two cars in 2015.
And so to the end game.
If no agreement is found by the morning, then Justice Croft will almost certainly find Sauber in contempt of his original order.
The options are twofold. Van der Garde agrees to a pay off, though having pursued this action in the particular manner he has, it would seem unlikely it is just about money. Were money the objective this could cost Sauber an eight digit sum.
Quantifying the damages of a pay driver is not as complex as it may seem. The amount they are prepared to pay, is the value they place on driving in F1. Of course there are ‘marketing’ considerations for the companies behind the driver who bring the funds, but in Van der Garde’s case, it his father-in-law who in effect is funding his race seat.
Further, it becomes much more difficult for Giedo to obtain a super license to race in Formula One in 2016 due to the regulation changes. So by denying him his drive in 2015, given his options to now race this year in other categories, this would most likely exclude Van der Garde from F1 competition in 2016 too.
Option two is that Sauber agree to honour the contract and complete the necessary paperwork for him to compete as one of their F1 drivers from Malaysia onwards. Of course then they will be in breach of contract with either Marcus Ericsson or Felipe Nasr.
What is for certain is that by choosing to take this course of action, Van der Garde has ensured whatever payout Sauber now must make is astronomic compared to had Giedo gone quietly into the night with a settlement weeks ago.
If it’s not about money, then the choice of legal process chosen by the Dutchman, fuels the belief that more than a race seat is at stake.
Criticism of Kaltenborn spreading
Never one to duck an opportunity to comment, Niki Lauda has heavily criticised Monisha Kaltenborn. When asked his opinion by Blick on the latest legal judgement, Lauda quipped, “Its not the first time the lady doctor has lost a case against Van der Garde. That says it all.”
The former F1 world champion described Kaltenborn’s choice of action as ‘strange’ adding, “agreements must be complied with”
Lauda suggested it was a case of ‘negligence’ on Kaltenborn’s part, concluding, “the misconduct of a team must not show the rest of Formula 1 in a bad light. I was hoping that the season would begin without trouble. Well I was wrong”
Meanwhile Nico Hulkenberg said he was “not very surprised” by Kaltenborn’s behaviour. He explained why, “Because I was part of the team and I know what goes on there.”
Jenson Button, Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and other drivers have all given their support to the action Giedo van der Garde has taken.