What a mess Sauber find themselves in. Geido van der Garde’s case against Sauber, for breaching the terms of his contract has been successful, pending appeal.
Rumours that van der Garde would have a seat at Sauber for 2015 started back before the epic 2014 Bahrain GP in April by Motorsport Magazine, who stated that the former Caterham driver had some extremely wealthy Dutch backers behind him to help secure a seat. Clearly for Sauber they were not wealthy enough, as they opted for another Caterham driver in Marcus Ericcson with Swedish corporate backers, and Banco do Brasil supported Felipe Nasr, who moved up from GP2 and after his test and development role at Williams.
If the result of Thursday evening’s (in the UK) appeal goes in Geido’s favour, then this would open a huge can of worms. This could lead to 2013 Sauber driver Adrian Sutil opening up a similar case should he feel just as aggrieved, he suggested last year that he still had a contract in place with Sauber by saying,
“They’ve confirmed two drivers but that doesn’t mean they can drive and it doesn’t mean the team’s going to drive.”
Should one of Felipe Nasr or Marcus Ericsson be pushed out of a seat in favour of VDG, then one would expect a counter case supported by their respected sponsors. These companies have invested tens of millions of pounds in support, at the very least they would want any money paid to Sauber refunded should their driver be unable to race for Sauber.
Either way this will inflict serious damage to the future of Sauber. The Swiss team scored zero points in 2014 and were beaten to 9th place by Marussia, meaning that they missed out on millions of pounds of prize money – one could see why they needed to opt for two ‘pay drivers’. The loss of either Nasr or Ericcson, and any possible future law suits would make an even bigger dent to Sauber’s finances.
Monisha Kaltenborn’s position as Sauber CEO must also be called into question. At present she has violated the terms of at least one of her employee’s contracts, and thrown the team and sport into disrepute. No doubt the sport’s media will have a field day during Friday’s team principal’s press conference. All this case does though is highlight the bigger problem of the state of finances in F1, and what teams need to do to survive. Reports such as those saying the van der Garde only found out that about Nasr’s drive by easing the press release shows that Sauber haven’t handled this very well, but having the situation where one heavily backed driver is being replaced by one with even greater finances is what the sport needs to avoid.
I know most of this is pure speculation with the result of Sauber’s appeal not being decided until later today, and the potential loss of another team in F1 is not what fans want to see, but it is important to know the potential ramifications of this case and how they could have been avoided in the first place.