The Sauber Formula One team was in a lot of trouble at the beginning of the season: they had more drivers under contract than they had seats. While Van der Garde ultimately dropped his case, it's clear from Giedo van der Garde's account of the weekend that they had zero intent to let him drive, anyway.
Much of the drama surrounding the Australian Grand Prix involved Sauber's third driver under contract, Giedo van der Garde. Every time his case against the team went to court, he won, yet the team had made zero accommodations for him to actually drive anything. It was a disaster. At the last minute, a motion was filed to hold the team in contempt of court, which could have had severe consequences including seizure of the team's assets in Australia as well as possible imprisonment of team principal Monisha Kaltenborn.
So, the team started going through the motions, but it was all for appearances per van der Garde's latest statement to Dutch magazine Formule 1, as reprinted by Autoweek:
It felt very strange.
I find it hard to describe what I really went through — (girlfriend) Denise can confirm that. But I knew that I must remain cool. I should have gone to the team and said "Hello, I'm here to drive." But then I went to the motorhome and nobody said anything. All those people I worked with before, ignored me.
Nobody looks at you and you think to yourself "What's going on?" I walked to (team manager) Beat (Zehnder) and he shoved me a race suit and shoes and said "Here." I dressed in the garage to have the seat fitting, but the pedals were set up for (Marcus) Ericsson. Nothing could be changed. They didn't adjust the foam — nothing. Just two mechanics (were there), as everyone else was sent away. That was very weird, because normally they would be there, working. I don't know what the team told those guys, but if they are honest, they would acknowledge that they only received their salaries because of our early payment in 2014. And then suddenly we are the enemies, which is of course bullshit.
I understand that they were worried their jobs were in jeopardy, but I think we deserved a little more credit. Only the engineers behaved normally, saying "If I was treated like that, I too would stand up for my rights." It's nice when you get respect like that, including from many drivers and team bosses.
So, a recap: van der Garde got to play dress-up in Ericsson's suit, which was as small on him as a certain red race suit is oversized for Sebastian Vettel, they didn't adjust anything in the car for van der Garde to be able to drive, and he got the cold shoulder from nearly everyone on the team. Ouch.
Van der Garde also makes a nod to Sauber's iffy financial terms, pointing out that the team wouldn't have been paid if the drivers who were originally scheduled for 2015 hadn't given Sauber an early payment in April 2014.
Ultimately, Sauber paid a rumored $16 million settlement for van der Garde to drop his case against them. Unfortunately for van der Garde, he fears his legal fight mat have squashed his Formula One dreams, however, he's hopefuly that it will improve things for drivers in the future. He told Formule 1, as quoted by Autoweek:
All in all it's been good. Sure, I'm out of the seat, my dream is gone, but I think it might change F1 now.
I have spoken to Alexander Wurz, the chairman of the [Grand Prix Drivers Association], and he is adamant that there should be better fairness in Formula One. I hope he succeeds, because this must never happen again.
I don't think any of us want to see this happen again, either. Obviously, this is a more complex situation than just "honor this contract." The insane costs of running a Formula One team are putting smaller outfits like Sauber in pretty dire straits. Clearly, Sauber's van der Garde mess is a prime example of how not to handle things, but that doesn't mean there's not a bigger issue at play here.
Photo credit: Getty Images
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.