Barcelona court petitioned over Sutil breach of contract

Breaking

The season opener in Australia provided Formula One back stories which were of a level of drama, not seen in recent years. The phoenix from the ashes Marussia Manor F1 team each session was eagerly anticipated on track – but in the end, they delivered a complete ‘no show’.

But the most dramatic story preceding the race weekend, was Sauber in court being humiliated before the world over their willful breach of Giedo van der Garde’s driver contract.

Ultimately, Van der Garde was vindicated and allegedly received $16m from the team that had ditched him because another driver brought greater funds than his contract promised.

Yet lurking in the background was another driver – equally usurped of his rights by Sauber – Adrian Sutil.

When Sauber announced at the US grand prix they were to ditch their 2015 contracted drivers and field two new drivers for this year, the BBC revealed Sutil’s response. “They’ve confirmed two drivers but that doesn’t mean they can drive and it doesn’t mean the team’s going to drive.”

Team boss Monisha Kaltenborn said at he time: “I am very clearly aware of my situation,” adding, “I know what I’m doing.”

Clearly Monisha was wrong. She had no idea what she was doing and without the goodwill of Giedo van der Garde, the team would not have raced in Australia this year and Monisha and Peter Sauber would have been detained at the pleasure of the Australian legal system.

Despite having dispatched the van der Garde claim for an eye-watering level of compensation, Sauber still have the outstanding matter of their other driver who also suffered a breach of contract – Adrian Sutil.

Unlike van der Garde who pressed to be allowed to drive this year, Adrian Sutil filed a suit in Switzerland, seeking “compensation rather than a forced reinstatement” from the Hinwil-based team.

The Sauber team has not resolved the matter, and the state of play remains the same as when reported by Blick in early March. “We have terminated his [Sutil] contract,” Kaltenborn stated, “but we had good reason. We made our decision in the interest of the team and its 330 employees.”

This legal stance failed for Sauber when contesting Van der Garde’s claim – and will almost certainly do so again when the Swiss team contest Sutil’s petition.

The London school of Economics should possibly reconsider its award of a legal degree to Monisha Kaltenborn, because the ‘greater good’ is not – and has never been – a proper argument for terminating a specific and binding contract without proper recompense.

With an almost identical contract to Van der Garde in his possession, Finland’s Turun Sanomat newspaper is reporting that Adrian Sutil has this week launched legal proceedings against Sauber in a Barcelona court.

Of course the outcome is uncertain, but the precedence of the Supreme Court of Victoria’s rulings may well influence the Spanish judiciary to rule in a similar fashion.

Adrian Sutil is now the reserve driver for Williams F1 and may feel he is under less pressure to give dispensation for Sauber to race in the Spanish GP – as van der Garde did in Australia.

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17 responses to “Barcelona court petitioned over Sutil breach of contract

  1. “Clearly Monisha was wrong. She had no idea what she was doing ” Not necessarily, maybe she knew exactly what she was doing.

    As Team Boss, one of her top priority questions in mid-2014 would have been “how do I find cash flow for the team to have enough funds available between now and March 2015 to build a car knowing I don’t get any Bernie money for this years performance until after new season starts?”. Solution is that she generates additional short term cash by signing a couple of new drivers and takes their money up front. She knows this will put her in breach of contract with her current drivers over money already paid by them but if she can delay the resolution of that dispute until at least March 2015 then she will be able to fund the compensation out of the new cash flows coming in from Bernie. A big risk is that one of the “terminated” drivers will push for a speedier resolution. However, the really bold part of the plan revolves around how well she knows the character of the drivers in question. Will any of them push so hard as to collapse the team over the money owed to them before she is able to settle their grievance. She banked on the fact that they wouldn’t and even GVG for all his forcefulness stopped short of collapsing the team and putting people out of work over what he was owed. I believe Monisha anticipated this perfectly and used this to her advantage. There was bad publicity and character attacks on her ethics but that is a cost she was willing to bear to ensure the team survived. A totally cynical strategy perhaps and certainly unethical but a strategy none the less that (so far) has turned out 100% in favour of achieving her goal, proving she is just as ruthless as the other Piranhas in the club.

    • Good points. It takes a certain steeliness to trash your own reputation to save the company. However, if I were in Sutil’s position I’d be very tempted to go for the ‘nuclear option’, if only to teach the Sauber management a lesson in humility – they really don’t seem to have learnt anything about how one should treat one’s employees. Second-guessing and exploiting GvdG’s good nature and sense of fair-play only seems to have emboldened them to carry on as if nothing happened.

    • One of these days this strategy is going to land her either in jail or owner of a bankrupt team because of the compensations that have to be awarded. In the end a completely futile strategy that will only make the rest of F1 look bad.

        • From that point of view Sauber surely have lucked into a good car because with such a low budget it would have been impossible to make the adaptations needed to improve a car. And next year it’s going to be even more difficult to produce a car that works since Monisha Kaltenborn has fired Willem Toet (the one who created the current car).

          I also wonder what they are going to do for next year… undoubtedly the money is going to run out before the end of the year and are they going to use the same strategy for the next season? (meaning hiring a lot of development and test drivers, suck them dry of money and leave them to fend for themselves for the next season)

    • No she didn’t know what she was doing. The Sauber legal strategy was just to ignore vd Garde and Sutil, and hope it will just go away. This is not knowing what you are doing.
      While I’m not a layer, I do know that when you have a breach of contract both parties should try to find a solution. A judge gets annoyed if the parties didn’t try and just go to court. So with Sauber not showing any attempt to find a solution, they got butchered at the court in Victoria. Luckily for Sauber a third party did want to get this court case away and supplied the money for the vd Garde settlement. Vd Garde got the choice: settle and take the money or destroy the team and get nothing. I do not think he backed down because of the Sauber employees. The money Sauber got is probably an advanced payment from somebody (either the sponsors or FOM).
      If Sauber is smart they will avoid a court case, Sutil did have time to get a layer prepared and they did propably wait to start the case when the F1 comes in a country that recognises Swiss contracts.

  2. Or, you can sign a driver like GvdG who allegedly provided some funds, and then sign a replacement driver who may bring an even bigger package, and still make a profit despite paying legal fees and settlements of $16M. Again, how much $$$ have Nasr and Ericson brought into the team in sponsorship?
    I think Monisha did know what she was doing when she signed the 2 current drivers.

  3. 5th place in the constructors, a solid rookie and a pay driver, a competitive car and money to develop it. It looks to me as if Kaltenborn knows exactly what she is doing.
    The idea that she has ruined her reputation ….with who? She is a Shark in a pack fighting for food and her brood is now going to survive or so it appears, she’s done her job.
    van der Garde didn’t get the money his Sugar Daddy did and as we are all guessing how much and why? My guess is the money represents the advances by SD plus a reasonable profit. Nothing for loss of income or future potential; van der Garde had no F1 options and was getting paid with money his sponsors brought. Sutil is the same scenario, he has always paid to play. If he gets anything it will be money in plus reasonable profit.
    Kaltenborn (and very likely Peter Sauber) made their decisions based on surviving. Who should be their concern, the guy buying a race seat to use as a stepping stone to elsewhere or the people in the Sauber organization (most who have been there for years) who feed their families with Kaltenborn signed pay cheques, The needs of hundreds verses the needs of 2, for me it is a no brainer where the managements obligation is.

  4. Thanks for the breaking news on this legal story.

    TJ13 has done better than most at covering legal stories of F1.

    A couple of quick comments…

    1) While this article does a nice job of laying out some background, the actual breaking news was only, “…Adrian Sutil has this week launched legal proceedings against Sauber in a Barcelona court.”

    That is pretty skimpy on facts of a breaking news story!
    * Which court?
    * What legal proceedings?
    * Which day?
    * How much money is at dispute (if known)?
    * How does Sutil’s case differ from vdG’s?
    * (etc.)

    2) It’s easy to confuse the administration of justice with ethics and morality. I’ve noticed that those who have some experience working in legal and justice systems, (and other keen, experienced observers of such systems) will point out that legal and justice systems can be far removed from the ethics and morality that one could assume guides such systems.

    Candidly, this article has over indulged with the righteous indignation sauce. Given how well TJ13 has covered some legal issues previously, I hope this is an aberration.

    • JAonF1 hasn’t even mentioned it yet.

      It was on Reddit r/formula1 yesterday being discussed, based on a report from a Finnish newspaper, Turun Sanomat, which seems to be the only reliable source originating the story.

      Their original story is here:

      http://www.ts.fi/urheilu/moottoriurheilu/f1/762651/Sutil+vuorostaan+viemassa+Sauberin+oikeustupaan+Espanjassa

      No answers to any of your questions there (in Finland, I mean).

      TJ13 should take the lead in reaching out to Sutil and his management and legal team for an exclusive to explain what’s up….

      • @Joe Papp We have. They were sympathetic due to our coverage re Caterham, but at this time feel it inappropriate and possibly prejudicial to comment.

        That’s not to say you won’t see some ‘speculation’ here in the coming days 😉

        • Based on two recent comments from their owners, the Sauber team seems to be emphasizing the performance advantage of their 2015 driver line-up versus their 2014 drivers.

          First, I noticed this interesting response by Ms. Kaltenborn in an interview by F1.com, which was published yesterday:

          “I think those hard and fast rules of earlier days that two experienced drivers are good, or a mix of one experienced one and a rookie – all these rules don’t apply any more. We have seen last year how experienced drivers have reacted to these cars… certainly we have seen that they (current gen F1 cars) need adaptation, and some drivers – and this possibly has something to do with less experience – can adapt quicker to these kind of cars than those with many more races under their belt. We have opted for a change – and yes, it was the right decision.”

          This was in response to a question regarding Sauber’s choice of an inexperienced driver line-up for 2015. One can draw implications in regards to experienced drivers such as Adrian Sutil.

          Second, earlier this month at the Chinese GP, Motorsport.com reported that Peter Sauber defended their driver choices for 2015 by saying, “I would not say that the drivers last year were worse, but they were not terribly motivated. That has now changed.”

          The implication that inexperienced drivers are hungrier to make their mark in F1, and are therefore more motivated versus what they saw from Sutil and Gutierrez.

          • True, but that is the driver’s problem to resolve.

            Under performing in the driver’s seat due to poor motivation will cause most F1 teams to think twice about having that driver’s butt return to one of their team’s seats.

            I’m merely gleaning what the team has been saying on the subject.

          • Have to agree with the judge, the single biggest factor in Sauber’s resurgence is the Ferrari engine. I’m prety sure the chassis improved as we don’t see the drivers slipping and sliding all over the place. Sutil’s and Gutierrez’s fault that was not. Remember Gutierrez throwing his gloves in frustration?

      • Thank you Joe, that is pretty helpful.

        Some interesting things I noticed…

        Turun Sanomat posted that news story Saturday, (mid-morning, perhaps for Sunday edition?). But this story wasn’t mentioned in their twitter feed, so it slept quietly for awhile, under the radar.

        The Finnish commentators on reddit speak well of Turun Sanomat as being trustworthy.

        The source appears to be inside Sutil’s management team, but that is speculative.

        I have the feeling this case will be different than van der Garde’s situation. Van der Garde said his sponsors prepaid Sauber significant money in 2013 for the 2014 season. Sutil’s sponsorship was worth much less, if I recall correctly. I seem to recall 2 to 3 million $$, but not sure. Anyone know, (#crowdsource)?

        Point is, what does Sutil want? It’s likely to be significantly less than van der Garde’s demands. In addition, Sutil’s management would know that Sauber is not a push over, since van der Garde pushed pretty hard and failed (he wanted only the seat, not the money, but only got the money).

        Since there are no details from any court in Barcelona, then one possibility is that Sutil’s management is attempting to bluff their poker hand, threatening Sauber to do the court thing in Barcelona, on the belief that Sauber doesn’t have the stomach for another court deal.

        In any case, it may be entertaining. If nothing else, we may see some frothing at the mouth from F1 fans, rabid with righteous indignation.

        • Cheers re. the article link. Good point about the timing and it not having been broadcast on Twitter by the paper.

          one possibility is that Sutil’s management is attempting to bluff their poker hand

          Great point, and one that is made slightly more plausible by His Honour’s above-reply indicating TJ13 reached out for comment but nothing whatsoever – not even the identity of the court before which a claim might be made – was forthcoming from Team Sutil.

          To the degree that VdG “failed”, isn’t it more a function of his unwillingness to actually cause the team to possibly cease operations by requesting the Australian court enforce the judgement they made (favorable to him), which would’ve seen the cars and other kit seized? Maybe he failed to appreciate just how unethical, reckless and scummy Kaltenborn is, that she’d be willing to destroy the team rather than respect the terms of his valid contract?

          If he’d gone nuclear, would there have been a team to drive for at the next GP? idk.

          Either way, I hope Sutil prevails as well, for Sauber’s failure to responsibly manage the situation from when it became apparent in Texas last year, and just how douchebaggy they were in general, has left me feeling highly unsympathetic towards them.

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