Formula One driver Giedo van der Garde won his legal bid on Wednesday to race for Sauber at this week’s Australian Grand Prix, throwing the team’s preparations into chaos.
The Swiss outfit lodged an immediate appeal against the ruling which will be heard later on Wednesday — less than two days before official practice begins in Melbourne.
Van der Garde claimed he was guaranteed a seat for the 2015 season by Sauber last year but they reneged on the deal and instead handed berths to Swede Marcus Ericsson or rookie Brazilian Felipe Nasr, who are heavily sponsored.
He originally took his case to a Swiss arbitration tribunal which ordered Sauber to keep him on the team. Victoria Supreme Court Justice Clyde Croft backed that ruling, enforcing it in Australia.
Croft said his decision was made purely on points of law.
The outcome opens for van der Garde, 29, a reserve driver for the Swiss team last year, to compete in Sunday’s season-opener — pending Sauber’s appeal.
“I’m very fit and very strong. I’m looking forward to going back to the team, (to) work hard and do our best for the weekend,” he told reporters outside the court.
Sauber lawyer Rodney Garratt had argued it would be “reckless” to let him compete in an unfamiliar car tailored to another driver and without going through the two-week seat-fitting process.
He said such a move would be “dangerous” and put other drivers and support staff at an “unacceptable” risk.
“Mr. van der Garde has no experience driving the C34 Ferrari and would not have sufficient time to learn,” Garratt told the court.
But van der Garde’s lawyer Tom Clarke argued that in 2012, a Formula One driver was fitted with a seat just three days after being granted a drive by an emergency ruling.
– Sauber ‘disappointed’ –
Sauber said it was disappointed with the ruling, before later launching its appeal.
“We are disappointed with this decision and now need to take time to understand what it means and the impact it will have on the start of our season,” chief executive Monisha Kaltenborn said in a statement.
“What we cannot do is jeopardise the safety of our team, or any other driver on the track, by having an unprepared driver in a car that has now been tailored to two other assigned drivers.”
Van der Garde insisted there would be no safety issues if he was in the cockpit for Sunday’s race.
“No, not at all. I’m the fittest ever. I’ve been training the last three months flat-out,” he said, adding that despite the dispute he was keen to work with Sauber again.
“I’m looking forward to going back to the team. I had a very good relationship, I still have a very good relationship, with the team.”
Van der Garde, who drove for fellow minnows Caterham during the 2013 season, making 19 starts, said he would be on track at Albert Park on Wednesday afternoon to prepare for the race.
Sauber endured a poor season in 2014, failing to register a single point in 19 races.
But they showed encouraging speed and reliability in pre-season testing with Nasr going fastest on the second day of the first test in Jerez. – Agence France-Presse