Q&A with Force Indias Vijay Mallya 30 Oct 2008
In advance of the final Grand Prix of the year in Brazil, Force India owner Vijay Mallya speaks extensively about the teams 2008 season, their negotiations with Ferrari and McLaren over engine supply, their driver line-up of Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella, and about the ongoing talks with the FIA concerning cost cutting
Q: How would you sum up the last few races?
Vijay Mallya: We've had a year that's been pretty erratic. We started out pretty well and then we flattened out. We improved again and flattened out yet again. And since the European Grand Prix, we've just stayed flat. I did however say that following the introduction of the seamless shift gearbox that we would not do any further major development of the 2008 car, and that all the focus would be on 2009. Perhaps this is also reflecting that but I'm a firm believer that one should look ahead and not behind. You certainly learn lessons from past history, but you can't keep moaning and groaning over split milk. I'm very confident that we will put on more than a decent show in 2009.
Q: What's the thinking behind the decision for next year?
VM: I have asked for the entire drivetrain and KERS package from both potential suppliers. Ferrari are not very sure that they can give me the entire drivetrain. Adrian suffered gearbox failure (in Shanghai). At the end of the day what sense does it make for me to have a great engine, a great KERS system, and a gearbox that's tentative? That's why I said go for the whole hog, a good tried and proven and tested package from the top two teams. And that's what I'm seeking to achieve.
Q: Don't you have an ongoing contractual relationship with Ferrari?
VM: Ferrari and us are very, very close friends, we have an excellent relationship. We have told them exactly what we want. We are in discussion. They are aware that I have talked to McLaren, so everything is completely transparent from our point of view. And it is also recognised that if for whatever reason we need to part, it will be a very friendly parting. And that's all agreed. If they have incurred some costs developing engines for us for next year, we'll talk about it. We're certainly not going to be bloody minded. If they have incurred costs on my behalf, I think I owe it to them to offer to reimburse. Beyond that I think there is a very positive and friendly spirit on either side, and so they will not be any acrimony or any wilful enforcement of a contract.
Q: You have a strong gearbox department at Silverstone. Won't you have to reorganise things if you have a customer gearbox?
VM: Everybody in this company has to realise that R&D and in-house development is one thing, but we need to think ahead and we need to think big. We have to be competitive, we have to improve our performance, we must regularly be in the points. We can't have this situation and I don't have the luxury of time to be able to just sit back and allow people to keep developing. There a huge initiative to cut costs in F1. We are talking about the price of an engine, and you know what Max Mosley is proposing. People are talking about the number of employees that you should have per team, putting a ceiling on the budgets and how much you can spend. What really needs to be focussed on is that the maximum money is going on testing and development. That is not a small expense. Even if you were to limit the price of an engine and a drivetrain, you necessarily have to look at the R&D expenditure if you want to seriously lower the costs of F1. I think that every team in the room in the last two FOTA meetings in Shanghai has clearly acknowledged that given the huge meltdown in the world today, that there is an urgent need to tighten our belts, cut costs, and try to achieve a profitable F1 team rather than expending vast sums of money without any control, as many teams have been doing over the last years. I say to my guys at Silverstone, we have use for you, we certainly value your talents and your skills. We will use them, but we will use them more effectively to make ourselves a better team and race a better car. Just because I decide to buy the drivetrain from a particular supplier doesn't mean that my guys don't have anything to do.
Q: Are you happy with the outcome of the recent FOTA meetings and discussions with the FIA?
VM: For the first time that I can remember we made some decisions where all teams agreed. And we put this down on a common piece of paper. This in itself is a major step forward, because in the past all we did was agree to disagree. It's about the engine, in response to what the FIA issued, it's KERS, it's overall cost cutting. It's pretty comprehensive, and it's various recommendations from the sporting working group and the technical working group. Clearly the FIA's recent initiatives deserved a comprehensive response. We've all given our input, and as I said before, for once we've all agreed on a common way forward. That's a good sign.
Q: In China you confirmed that Giancarlo and Adrian will stay on for 2009. How would you sum up their seasons?
VM: I was asked whether I was making any changes to the drivers, and I said no. Once we get the car sorted out, I think these guys will perform, because I think they have the talent to perform. I think that it's been a combination of many things this year. There have been occasions on which my drivers have made mistakes, but more often than not, the car has let them down. For those that believe in luck, we haven't really had any luck on our side.
Q: Finally, the year has gone very quickly. What are your thoughts heading into the last race?
VM: The year has gone remarkably quickly. We have improved, this much I will say. We haven't improved enough, it's pretty clear. With one race to go am I well advised to spend my time yelling and screaming at people? No. I'd rather motivate them into saying we'll learn our lessons from the mistakes of 2008, and we go in fully charged for 2009 with a comprehensive package from one of the two top teams in F1, and build on that a truly competitive race car.