Giedo Van der Garde, a Dutch Formula One (F1) driver has recently succeeded in an action against the Swiss Sauber Racing Team for breach of contract. Van der Garde had been promised a contract to drive for Sauber during the 2015 racing season but during November 2014 Sauber reneged on that earlier agreement and offered the two F1 cars to alternative drivers Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr. Sauber were subsequently sued by Van der Garde and have ultimately settled the matter for a reported £11 million.
Upon learning that the two slots for the 2015 F1 season had been handed to alternative drivers, Van der Garde commenced arbitration proceedings and managed to obtain injunctive relief against Sauber prior to the commencement of the first Grand Prix of the season. Van der Garde initially pursued Sauber in Switzerland – where the Sauber Racing Team is based and subsequently in the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia – the venue for the inaugural Grand Prix of the season. The courts both ruled in Van der Garde’s favour by recognising that there was a valid contract and by further stating that Sauber must honour the contract with the Dutch driver. The matter was subsequently settled by the parties which led to the termination of the contract by mutual respect in exchange for Van der Garde receiving a substantial amount of damages.
Such contractual disputes in the lucrative world of F1 are often conducted in secret however the details of Van der Garde’s case were publicised shortly before the Australian Grand Prix in March of this year. The case itself has a paramount public interest in terms of the protection of the rights of individual sports stars. Van der Garde, who clearly had a valid contract with Sauber, appears to have had his F1 career ruined. The fact that Sauber agreed to settle the matter by paying the Dutch driver substantial damages will likely come as scant consolation to Van der Garde who had his sights set on a successful F1 career. Sauber had attempted to vigorously defend the matter but ultimately settled after it became a distinct possibility that their cars for the 2015 season would be seized. There was also the possibility of Sauber’s directors being taken into custody.
The case illustrates a need for further protection of the rights of sports stars. The speed at which the matter was ultimately concluded was impressive however there have been calls for the governing body of F1 to set up an internal resolution procedure instead of forcing drivers such as Van der Garde to pursue matters via the more formal court process. Van der Garde himself has accepted that his F1 career is now likely to be over and has been vocal in stating that new measures must be incorporated into the sport to protect drivers.
Here at Farleys we have a specialist team of sports lawyers who deal with breach of contract issues on a daily basis in a multitude of different sports. Do not hesitate to contact us today to speak to one of our specialist solicitors for expert advice on any sports related matter on 0845 287 0939. Alternatively please complete an online enquiry form.