The curious case of Sebastian Saavedra

INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 23: Sebastian Saavedra of Colombia drives the #29 Bryan Herta Autosport Dallara Honda during morning practice on Bump Day for the IZOD IndyCar Series 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 23, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Under normal circumstances, Sebastian Saavedra might be excused for seeing two Bryan Herta Autosport cars sitting wrecked on the Kentucky Speedway asphalt and saying, "I'm glad it's not me."

Indeed, the William Rast-sponsored Firestone Indy Lights car that Saavedra has been driving this season was parked on the apron with its left front tire sitting on top of the sidepod, inches away from the helmet of Daniel Herrington - Saavedra's replacement. The other BHA car, driven by Stefan Wilson, was sitting on the infield grass, virtually stripped down to the tub by heavy contact.

You might not blame Saavedra for his "There, but for the grace of God..." sentiment - but what if you understood the correct context of his comment - and the action that preceded it?

You see, Saavedra hadn't yet seen the replay of the accident, which involved Herrington, Wilson, and Sam Schmidt Motorsports' Philip Major. He, like the IMS Radio reporter with whom he was speaking, believed that Wilson had spun out on his own and collected Major and Herrington.

Saavedra had quit the BHA team the day before the race based on issues he had with BHA's car preparation, posting the following to his Twitter feed:

After last races things haven't gone the way they should. And at last my managers and main sponsor made the decision to stop to not continue harming my racing career and name.. I'm frustrated and sad to break up the news but that's it.

Saavedra's management team includes former IndyCar driver Roberto Guerrero. From what I understand, Saavedra terminated his contract with BHA based on their recommendation because allegedly BHA did not meet certain contract standards, which were violated by the team's poor performance. The "main sponsor" in this case would have to be Saavedra's personal sponsor, since William Rast was still on the sidepods of the BHA entry that Daniel Herrington inherited the next day.

Saavedra's father reportedly broke the news to Herta late on Friday night, leaving the BHA team scrambling to find a replacement driver for the next day's race. Herrington, who won a race for BHA last season in FILS, agreed to take a break from his current duties as an IndyCar Series spotter to take over Saavedra's vacated seat.

When Herrington and Wilson were involved in the accident, Saavedra intimated in his interview with IMS Radio that it was a result of ongoing failures on the part of BHA and the team mechanics to keep their cars in a raceable condition. Although specifically mentioning the fuel system - which, according to Saavedra, had failed in three previous races - he made it clear that something was fundamentally wrong in the team's upkeep. Assuming that Wilson was the car that lost control, Saavedra took the event to be a confirmation of his decision's validity.

Unfortunately for Saavedra's case, it turned out that it was Major in the Sam Schmidt entry who had lost control, collecting both BHA cars through no fault of their own. It appeared that BHA was therefore off the hook - at least about allegedly fielding a car for Wilson that had proven to be "undriveable." Still, Saavedra kept pressing home his point that he was well-rid of BHA and their FILS program and, somewhat optimistically, expressed his opinion that relations with BHA were "fine" and that he was looking forward to racing in IndyCar next season.

In the post-weekend debate, plenty has been said about Saavedra's decision to abruptly quit Bryan Herta Autosport. The 2009 FILS Rookie of the Year (driving for AGR-AFS Racing) did not have many allies - either for his choice or for its timing. Many fans were incredulous that a professional racing driver would simply quit mere hours before the team was expected to compete in a race.

Saavedra did have some supporters who did not blame him for not wanting to race an "unsafe" race car. However, Saavedra's public justification mentioned nothing about any concerns that the BHA cars threatened his physical well-being - only that they were "harming (his) racing career." A recurring issue with the fuel system? Yes. A threat to his life and limb? No.

For his part, Saavedra is confident that he will be racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series next year. The question is, will any IndyCar team be willing to hire a driver who would be willing to quit on the team at such an inopportune time?

It's not as if Saavedra has had the worst year with BHA in FILS - in fact, he has a race victory to his credit and, going into Kentucky, was fifth in points with a potential top-three finish in his sights. Certainly it was not as good a year as he had in 2009, but then again in 2009 he was with one of the top teams in FILS in Andretti-Green Racing, while BHA is more of a second-tier team in terms of resources.

Whether Saavedra had just cause to quit relies on Saavedra's implication that BHA defaulted on certain contract stipulations in terms of the team's equipment. Not having a copy of the contract itself, I do not want to speculate about whether that is true or not. It seems to contradict common sense that a team would include language that guarantees a minimum performance standard, but a rider that activated once a certain number of mechanical or parts failures seems less strange.

Regardless of whether he had justification to quit the team as he did, the larger issue is Saavedra's timing. Simply stated, Saavedra's choice to quit hours before the race was to go off, without warning and without consideration to the effect on his team, was incredibly unprofessional. If there were recurring issues with the car, Saavedra and his management team needed to confer with BHA management to communicate their concerns proactively - particularly if the Saavedra camp were considering terminating their contract.

Even so, there were other options Saavedra had at his disposal. He could have waited out the weekend and driven conservatively, then resigned following the race. He could have pulled a NASCAR-style "start and park" if he indeed thought the car was "undriveable." Both of these options take into consideration the well-being not only of himself but of his team - the mechanics and crew members who had spent their hard-earned time and effort to support Saavedra's drive in the first place. To simply abandon the team outright and offer justification afterward smacks of selfishness and ego - and, perhaps worse, unreliability.

That combination cannot be appetizing for any teams who might otherwise have taken a chance on Saavedra in either FILS or IICS next year. A driver has a choice of how he behaves. For instance, Saavedra's teammate Wilson, interviewed following his Kentucky wreck, was diplomatic and reserved when questioned about Saavedra's allegations concerning the team. Whether he felt the same as Saavedra about the team's preparations or not, he did not address the subject publicly. Wilson's conduct only served to make Saavedra's airing of his dirty laundry look more self-serving.

Still, Saavedra appears optimistic that his choices will have no effect on his bright future in IndyCar racing. And he might be right, if for no other reason that a team's financial considerations might overwhelm any skepticism they might have over a driver's ability or character (see: Milka Duno, Francesco Dracone, et al).

If nothing else, however, potential employers would do well to mark this incident for future reference. Saavedra is obviously talented - his record speaks to that. Whether his judgment can be trusted as well as his driving ability is another thing altogether.

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