Exclusive - Vijay Mallya on his plans for Team India 11 Sep 2007
When news came that the Spyker team was to be sold yet again, there were fears of a dark future for the Silverstone squad. Then a white knight emerged in the shape of Dr Vijay Mallya - Indian businessman, bon vivant and enthusiastic Formula One fan.
Like all good entrepreneurs, Mallya has the gift of being able to combine commercial interests with personal ones, so its no surprise that he has a very clear vision of what a Team India should be
Q: How was the response in India after the announcement that an Indian businessman is to take the step into Formula One team ownership?
Vijay Mallya: The excitement was so huge that there are people waiting in line now with their cheque book in their hand trying to partner with us - I have not heard of anything like that in any other part of the world. And when we announced that the Indian flag would be part of the team colours and logo, there was an explosion of excitement romping through the country.
Q: What were your reasons for getting involved? It is still a difficult environment for private teams
VM: First of all, I am not a newcomer to the fast lane. I have raced an F1 car in the 70s and I have raced in other series in India. My financial Formula One involvement goes back to the mid 90s when I was a sponsor of the Benetton team, and very recently of the Toyota team. So I know very well what Ive got involved in. Having participated on a sponsor level, obviously the next logical step was to buy into a team. And the time was right now: India has changed in the last decade. India is almost a global economy with a very young population - almost 300 million people have good jobs, earn good money and are able to spend it on an international standard. That is my target market. India has one Formula One driver with Narain Karthikyan and a hopeful in the GP2 series with Karun Chandok, and we have a robust basis in the Indian sports car series. With the object to bring all these assets together, the decision was now or never.
Q: Did you look into any other motorsport options?
VM: Formula One is the crown of motorsport and it is my style to look at the crown and not at the grass roots.
Q: What will the management of the new team look like?
VM: I have a 50/50 partnership with the Mol family. There will be five directors: I will appoint three and the Mol family two. And I personally will take over the duties of Chairman and Managing Director.
Q: You have bought into a team that has changed ownership several times in a short period. Was that influential in your decision?
VM: Probably this circumstance was responsible for the fact that the opportunity came along. Jordan had a good pedigree and maybe it was unfortunate that the wrong people bought it in the past - I say maybe. But as far as I am concerned this will be a long term commitment. I want to make this work. I intend to introduce some new dimensions to the development in the next couple of months. Sure there will be no miracles in 08 - thats simply not possible - but as we move forward you will see significant progress. The real excitement with an Indian-owned team will be the 200 million new fans that India will add to the Formula One community. Thats a big step forward for the sport!
Q: Before you made your offer, did you consider starting your own team, given the new opportunities that will arise next season with the new customer-car regulations?
VM: I analysed the situation and there was a fundamental issue: Spyker is a constructor team - and all new teams that possibly will come into existence in 08 are not constructors. I clearly wanted to be a constructor.
Q: So you still intend the team to build its own car?
VM: That is correct.
Q: So what is the actual timeframe for the purchase?
VM: The deal will be completed by the end of September. In between I will sit down with the team management to come up with a sound budget. Just off the top of my head, in a very casual way, maybe yes, the budget has to be increased - and if it is justified and the money is spent in the right way, I have no problems in approving a bigger budget for the team.
Q: Do you have any idea how the team will be named? Will you keep the Spyker name?
VM: I dont know if we can keep the name Spyker, as Spyker is a car company. One thing is for sure, I want to put the word India into the name of the team, but I have not really spent time on the name so far.
Q: Will you involve Indian companies in the technical development of the team? The technology sector is one of the fastest growing in India
VM: I will, for sure, leverage whatever technology is available in India to add for the benefit of the team. This is a process I have to analyse in the months ahead.
Q: What about the driver line-up? Will there be an Indian driver on the grid next season?
VM: We do have two Indian drivers with Karthikayan and Chandok, but it is too early to say if one of them will be chosen, so I will not make any comments on that.
Q: But would it be important to have an Indian driver?
VM: Absolutely. An Indian team with an Indian driver would be the ideal combination. In the future I will look very carefully into our karting championship to identify talents that can be developed into potential candidates for the team.
Q: You have a multitude of business interests - how much time can you realistically invest in the team? Will you be a hands-on team owner?
VM: I will invest all the time necessary to make the team a success. I have shared my views of how to run it with Mr Ecclestone - and obviously I am on the right track.
Q: Bernie Ecclestone once said that to be successful in Formula One requires a dictatorial business style. What will your style be?
VM: I have to do what I have to do to, and if that implies being a dictator then I will be a dictator!