- The Inside Line
Mr Right, or Mr Right Now?Kate Walker March 11, 2015
Formula One is a tricky business from a moral point of view.
As a sport, it is made up of a number of intellectual heavyweights, men and women whose brains demand nothing but respect. Getting these brains to take a long-term view on anything, however, is a big ask. Attempting to apply basic standards of logic and moral reasoning to F1 decisions is little more than a fool's errand.
The current furore over Giedo van der Garde's attempts to secure a seat that is contractually his is a case in point.
To view the situation from a legal standpoint, van der Garde is entirely correct to use the courts to ensure that his contract with Sauber is enforced. If contracts are not worth the paper they are written on, what is the point of signing them?
The Swiss team may be in the uncomfortable situation of having three contracted drivers and only two seats to fill, but that is not van der Garde's problem. The Dutch racer has had successive judgments made in his favour in courts in three countries, and he could yet force the team's hand in every country on the calendar.
If Sauber had followed Marussia and Caterham over the edge of the financial abyss over the course of the winter, van der Garde's contract with a non-existent team would also have seen him left high and dry without a drive.
Sauber had a number of incredibly difficult decisions to make towards the end of 2014, as the wolf at the door looked like crossing the threshold and devouring all that he found inside. Faced with a choice of honouring van der Garde's contract and allowing the team to collapse into financial ruin or ditching their contracted drivers and taking on money men capable of ensuring their survival, Sauber took the Utilitarian position. The greater good of saving 300 jobs was deemed to be worth the loss of two: the race drives promised to van der Garde and Adrian Sutil.
Like all difficult decisions, there were positives and negatives to be weighed. The team's contracted drivers would almost certainly seek some form of compensation for the loss of their 2015 roles, but the budget being brought by their well-funded replacements could cover those costs while leaving enough in the kitty to keep the Hinwil racers afloat. No one anticipated that either of the sidelined drivers would use legal means to force their way back into a race drive.
It simply isn't done in this sport.
Morally, van der Garde may well be in the right. But he is acting in short-term self-interest by pursuing his right to drive through the courts. Whether or not the amiable Dutchman lines up on the Melbourne grid on Sunday afternoon, van der Garde has scuppered any chance he might have had of a long-term future in the sport - unless he can find a cash-strapped team reliant on his sponsorship funds.
Sauber's financial woes are no secret. That van der Garde has prioritised his own interests over those of the team - and the employment prospects of the 300-plus people working at Hinwil - has not gone unnoticed within the rarefied confines of the paddock. Formula One is a team sport, after all, and no one driver is more important than the survival of a team. Whether or not the label is deserved, van der Garde has painted himself as a trouble-maker, a liability, a man who will sacrifice the many to save himself.
Even those who are in the right can quickly position themselves to be in the wrong, as van der Garde will learn when he seeks to secure a longer term future within Formula One.