The Van de Garde/Sauber contract debacle and the subsequent court case the week before the Melbourne GP will be remembered by F1 fans, if only for the dramatic daily rulings and possible consequences.
Further, as one with appropriate legal training, Sauber’s team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn was set to carry the can for a state of affairs which saw the team contract more individuals to race for them, than were seats available.
Monisha this week has been speaking to UOL Esporte about the Van de Garde affair and the ruling in a Melbourne court which almost ended with her being imprisoned.
“There was a real risk [of going to prison]. Legally, I had my position but we had a decision [made against us] contrary to that and then made a deal, but the story could have been very different.”
“It was very stressful for me, but it was clear what I had to protect – my team and my drivers… I was placed in a situation that was totally misunderstood by the media, but I was not in a position to comment because I had to protect the staff”.
By admitting that there was ‘a real risk’ of being sent to jail, Monisha now confirms the kind of final ruling that was likely to be handed down.
What is surprising though, is implication Kaltenborn makes that there was information unheard by the court, the media and the public, which mitigates her position.
Does this mean Sauber’s actual ‘legal position’, was somehow secretly justified and Kaltenborn is the victim of misrepresentation?
The reality was that the Judge heard both sides of the argument and categorically ruled Sauber to be in the wrong.
“We were in a very difficult situation because we couldn’t say anything, and yet most people who wrote about it had no idea what was going on but still gave their opinion – and very strong opinions.”
This is also a strange thing to say. The case was heard in open court. Sauber’s defence was made clear and reported accordingly; though that at times their arguments were more comic farce than common sense.
So what wasn’t said?
The Judge would surely have believed he was in possession of all the facts because the threat of imprisoning Senior Sauber team members, is not one made lightly.
By persisting with this line that her conduct was in fact somehow appropriate, Monisha appears to be still suffering from similar delusions which led her to think contracting four drivers for 2015 – would somehow end well.
The dispute was over a breach of contract and cases like this, when petitioned and heard in court, almost inevitably result in the payment of damages by the party deemed culpable of not fulfilling their side of the bargain.
However, this does not mean that the disaffected party has to accept compensation. Where possible, they can insist on having the contract enforced.
Van der Garde did exactly this and insisted his driver contract be reinstated. Further, being the first in the legal line of 3 or 4 drivers in a similar position, the Judge was not bound to take a pragmatic view that eventually someone would have to accept compensation.
Had the ruling in Australia been enforced, either Nasr or Ericsson would have had to sit out the race weekend, or certain Sauber personnel were going to spend some time in a Melbourne cell.
Of course, Van der Garde couldn’t race in Australia because the team had frustrated his Super License application. He was timed out.
The Judge recognised this fait accompli had come about because as team principal Kaltenborn had frustrated the superlicense application process.
The result, had Sauber entered both drivers for the weekend’s competition they would immediately have been in breach of the court ruling and had their assets seized.
Monisha may argue she was being pragmatic. She took the view that to breach the contracts of Sutil and Van der Garde’s in favour of the extra money Nasr and Ericsson brought, was a financially smart move.
The incremental cash the new drivers were bringing was presumably thought by Kaltenborn to be enough to pay off Van der Garde and Sutil – and quietly – leaving the team still in a net position of financial gain.
Yet pragmatism relies on an element of realism. Were the sums of money Kaltenborn proposed to settle Van der Garde and Sutil’s breach of contract compensation realistic? Is this why Giedo pushed the matter through the courts to the very point of the team being sanctioned and assets seized?
Whatever the details of the initial negotiations, the reality was Kaltneborn was made to look foolish; Sauber taken to the brink of insolvency and Van der Garde gained the proper financial settlement he was due. This was believed to be in the region of 15 millions euros.
Why the announcements of the new drivers had to be made in Austin Texas without informing Sutil and Van der Garde can only be a matter of speculation. The smart thing to do would have been to present Sutil and Van der Garde up front with their likely fate and do a deal before signing up Nasr and Ericsson.
Why Kaltenborn wants to rake over these coals again, is not clear.
Waking sleeping dogs is doing the Sauber team Principal no favours at all. She should let the matter lie and move on.
Because on this issue, she has been already judged – both in a court of law and by public opinion.