Exclusive Q&A - Force Indias Vijay Mallya 11 Aug 2008
Force India may still be awaiting their first championship point, but they have added a truly colourful personality to the Formula One ranks with Vijay Mallya, the teams owner. Mallya brings to the table not only a huge passion for racing, but also a determination to share that passion with a whole subcontinent. The team is already a huge success socially, with Mallyas legendary yacht parties and poker games featuring some of F1s biggest names amongst the players. Now Mallya knows he needs to up the stakes where it matters most - on track. And that is exactly his plan for 2009
Q: Vijay, Formula One racing is into its traditional summer break - usually the time when teams assess the season so far and make way for new developments. What is on your agenda for Force India?
Vijay Mallya: I will use the time to really reflect on what we have achieved in the first half of the season. It is very clear that in the early part of the season we made good progress compared to other teams and then we slowed down a little, because maybe other teams made more progress than us. We tested our new seamless-shift gearbox and we are very happy with the results. We did not use it in Budapest, but we will introduce it at the European GP in Valencia - and as far as I am concerned thats it for the development for 2008 and all the focus from now on will be to develop a really competitive car for 2009.
To be very honest and frank we invested a lot of time, resource and money to improve the team during the 2008 season, even though time has been very short. One realizes how tough and competitive Formula One really is. This is the pinnacle of technology and performance and it reinforces the challenge that I have before me for 2009 to be really competitive. I am quite optimistic, however, that my experience so far has pointed us very correctly into the right direction. I know now precisely what I am up against, I know precisely the challenge before me, so I can plan better. I feel happy that maybe I learned the hard way, but it is good to learn! So 2009 will see a much more competitive Force India team.
For me personally the most enjoyable thing so far has been making so many friends in the paddock amongst so many teams, establishing the exclusive poker club at our motorhome and enjoying having other team principals and drivers just walk in and spend time in a very cordial atmosphere. In respect of our track performance, people realize that we are trying very hard, people realize that we have made a lot of improvements since the previous years, and people also appreciate that we are open, friendly, cheerful people - and we are enjoying being here.
Q: It was clear from the beginning of the season that you would be playing catch-up, because of development shortfalls from the previous year. Nevertheless, did you expect better results?
VM: What I have realized is that I am not only catching up from last season, but catching up from the last three seasons - so three years, not one. And we have caught up, even though Formula One has become so competitive, which is good. In a way that half a second means a lot - a tenth of a second means a lot - which was never the case before. Even in such an environment, Force India has clearly demonstrated that we have caught up and improved. Whether it is enough or not is a different issue. One also has to realize that in Formula One things dont happen from one season to the next. Even Ferrari, McLaren and Williams had - and still have - their ups and downs. It can take years to actually start performing - take the case of Toyota. People should not expect miracles from me in the first season, but I promise a good show in 2009!
Q: At the beginning of the season you jokingly said that you didnt want to see your drivers qualify on the back row because it is too long of a walk. Unfortunately, you have had to do this walk many times. Disappointed?
VM: It did not disappoint me, but it did help me lose some weight! It is a good learning experience and now it is very clear in my mind what the challenge is. Sometimes, unless you experience it you really dont know what you are up against.
Q: Have you started thinking about the driver market for 2009? Neither of your drivers has scored so far this season - Giancarlo Fisichella has retired in five of the 11 races, and Adrian Sutil in seven...
VM: I have two good drivers and you must understand that for Force India my needs are somewhat unique. The experience of Giancarlo is invaluable to me and Adrian has lots of talent. I think he is improving race by race, becoming more consistent. I am quite happy with them. More importantly, they have a great attitude that will help me to face the challenges of tomorrow and I think they will be very satisfied driving the 2009 car, which I personally am sure will be a significant improvement and a big surprise.
Q: You have already become a fixture in the paddock. You have yet to miss a race, you are a hands-on team owner, you have given generously to the charities involved with Formula One, you throw the best parties - it seems you are hooked
VM: Well, I have enjoyed the Formula One paddock as a sponsor, and now as a team owner. This is what makes the sport so great - the very high level of technology on the one hand, the extreme competition on the other hand. And not to forget the extreme glamour. That is what excites me about Formula One.
Q: India was for a long time relatively unknown territory for Formula One racing. You have laid a solid foundation with Force India. What could be next on the agenda?
VM: I am not directly involved with the construction of the new circuit in India, but from what I have heard it is perfectly on track, so India should have a Grand Prix by 2010. And, of course, the launch of Force India, as one of only 10 teams on the Formula One grid, has stimulated the interest in Formula One in India dramatically, and it is getting more and more popular. In 2009 I am quite hopeful that we will have significantly better performance which will then stimulate the level of interest and fans even more. And finally, when Formula Once arrives in India in 2010 it will be marvellous because in terms of sheer potential India is a unique opportunity for Formula One in general.