MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Formula One racing team Sauber lost its appeal on Thursday against a court ruling allowing driver Giedo van der Garde to race in Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.
The Dutch driver said he was promised a seat for the 2015 season, but the Swiss team dumped him in favor of Sweden's Marcus Ericsson and Brazilian Felipe Nasr in November.
A Victorian Supreme Court judge ruled on Wednesday that van der Garde should be able to race in the season-opener in Melbourne, upholding a Swiss arbitration tribunal's decision.
Sauber appealed Wednesday's decision, but three Victorian Court of Appeal judges ruled against the racing team Thursday, setting the stage for van der Garde to begin practice sessions Friday and compete in Sunday's race.
However, doubts remained over whether van der Garde had the necessary Formula One "super license" to drive, and Australian Grand Prix officials would not comment on his status.
In court, Justice Simon Whelan said the court found no error in the judge's original ruling on Wednesday.
At the appeal hearing earlier Thursday, Rodney Garratt, a lawyer for the Sauber team, said if van der Garde was reinstated, the team would be in breach of its contract with Nasr and Ericsson. But Judge David Beach asked Garrett which of the three contracts his client was prepared to breach.
Garrett also repeated to the court that because the cars are custom-fitted for each driver, there would not be enough time to reconfigure one of their Ferraris to suit van der Garde before the start of Friday's practice session.
But Justice Whelan told the court that too much reliance was placed on safety concerns.
"No person is required to undertake any illegal or unsafe activity," Justice Whelan said. "These events are highly regulated. We proceed on the assumption that the regulators will ensure that all safety requirements are complied with."
Justice Whelan appeared exasperated at times with Garratt, repeatedly asking him why Sauber did not comply with the Swiss court's decision in December that Sauber's contract with van der Garde was valid.
Van der Garde's lawyers lodged papers with the court last Friday. The driver, who was a reserve with Sauber last season, claimed to have a contract for a race seat this season, but the financially-troubled team appointed Ericsson and Nasr as its drivers for 2015, with both bringing lucrative sponsorship backing.
In documents lodged with the court, van der Garde said he was guaranteed a spot on this year's Sauber team on June 28, 2014, but team bosses reneged on the deal.
"In early November 2014, Mr. van der Garde was informed by Sauber's chief executive officer, Ms. Monisha Kaltenborn, that Sauber's two seats had been given to other drivers and that, as a consequence, Mr. van der Garde would not have a place as a driver in the team in 2015," the documents said.
Van der Garde originally took his case to the Arbitration Institution in Switzerland, which ordered Sauber to keep him on the team.
"The respondent (Sauber) was ordered to refrain from taking any action the effect of which would be to deprive Mr. van der Garde of his entitlement to participate in the 2015 Formula One season as one of Sauber's two nominated race drivers," the court documents said.