Formula One minnows Sauber on Thursday lost their appeal against a court ruling that ordered them to allow Giedo van der Garde to drive in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
The decision in the Victoria Supreme Court throws their preparations into chaos, with the Swiss team claiming it would be unsafe to let him take part.
Sauber lost a case bought by the Dutchman in the court on Wednesday. He claimed he was guaranteed a seat for the 2015 season but that the team reneged on the deal.
Van der Garde originally took his complaint to a Swiss arbitration tribunal which ordered Sauber to keep him in the cockpit. Victoria Supreme Court Justice Clyde Croft backed that ruling, enforcing it in Australia.
Sauber appealed but it was thrown out with the three appeal court judges saying they saw “no error in the reasoning of the trial judge”.
“We did not consider this course to be in the interest of justice,” the judges said in a statement.
“The appeal is dismissed because we see no error in the reasons of the trial judge.”
Sauber, which hired Sweden's Marcus Ericsson and rookie Brazilian Felipe Nasr for 2015, argued it would be unsafe to allow him to drive in Sunday's race at such short notice, with their custom-built cars not able to be reconfigured to fit his body.
“There is no practical way we can allow (and) facilitate Mr van der Garde in this new C34 Ferrari which he has not previously raced,” the team’s lawyer Rodney Garratt told the appeal judges.
“The last time he did any competitive driving was in November 2013,” he added.
It was not clear how the safety concerns will now factor into whether Van der Garde can drive, with official practice for the Melbourne race getting under way on Friday.
“These events are highly regulated. We proceed on the assumption that the regulators will ensure that all safety requirements are complied with,” Justice Simon Whelan told the court.
Formula One’s race director Charlie Whiting said that Van der Garde did not hold the FIA driver’s super licence that would enable him to race, but he did not rule out his ability to get one in time.
“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 told a news conference Thursday. “The safety department in Geneva deal with that.”
Van der Garde, 29, a reserve driver for the Swiss team last year after competing for Caterham in 2013, said on Wednesday he was keen to race.
“I’m very fit and very strong. I’m looking forward to going back to the team, work hard and do our best for the weekend,” he said.
He 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.
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.
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