Formula 1 team Sauber have lost their appeal to block Dutch driver Giedo van der Garde’s bid to force the Swiss outfit to let him drive for them this season and have also been ordered to pay the driver’s legal costs
Sauber appealed a ruling by the Supreme Court of Victoria state which on Wednesday upheld a Swiss arbitration tribunal’s decision that had ordered the team to refrain from taking action to deprive Van der Garde from racing for them.
Van der Garde had charged Sauber with reneging on a deal to give him a race seat after they signed Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson and Brazilian Felipe Nasr as their two race-day drivers.
The court dismissed Sauber’s appeal on Thursday and ordered the team to pay his legal costs, three days before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
After Wednesday’s initial ruling, Van der Garde had said he was looking forward to going back to the team and driving for them this weekend at Albert Park, “I still have a very good relation with the team.”
Lawyers for Sauber had argued handing Van der Garde a seat so late before the race was an unacceptable safety risk and told the Court of Appeal that there was no car seat in Melbourne that could be adapted to suit the Dutchman.
The team also argued Van der Garde had no F1 ‘super-license’, which would bar him from driving.
Though the court ordered the enforcement of the Swiss tribunal’s decision, it was unclear whether Van der Garde would be able to race in Australia.
Formula One racing director Charlie Whiting told reporters that Van der Garde could not race without a super-license but a day before Friday practice, would not rule out his ability to get one.
“All I’m saying is that there are procedures that are dealt with through the team, through the ASN (national sporting authority) of the driver concerned and the FIA in Geneva,” Whiting said. “The safety department in Geneva deal with that.”
The legal battle has played out amid concerns over the financial health of a number of Formula One teams.
Ericsson and Nasr replaced German Adrian Sutil and Mexican Esteban Gutierrez at Sauber, each bringing substantial financial backing.
Nasr’s seat has brought sponsorship from Banco do Brasil, while Ericsson brings other backers.
Either drivers’ displacement to make way for Van der Garde could prove problematic for Sauber’s commercial arrangements in a sport renowned for its astronomical running costs.
Meanwhile Sergio Perez, a former Sauber driver who drives for Force India now, sided with the driver for his stance on the matter.
“It shouldn’t be the way people should be treating drivers,” he told reporters on Thursday in Melbourne. “They should respect drivers. We need this work and this career, so it’s not fair when people are not treating you the way you should be treated.”
Felipe Massa, meanwhile, made his debut for Sauber in 2002 and admitted it was an unseemly situation on the eve of the new world championship.
“Formula 1 is not in the best moment compared to what we saw in the past and then you see this situation. It’s not nice,” said the Brazilian.
Melbourne’s Age newspaper claims the Hinwil camp has threatened to pull out of the Australian grand prix altogether over the saga.