Exclusive Q&A with Force Indias Vijay Mallya 21 Nov 2012
Force India have delivered a strong 2012 campaign, even if their dream of rising to P6 in the constructors standings has ultimately eluded them. But with a true racer as team principal in Vijay Mallya, the chances of getting there in 2013 are very much alive. Mallya discusses the departure of top points scorer Nico Hulkenberg, the chances of Adrian Sutil replacing him, and Force Indias - and Indias - Formula One future
Q: Vijay, Force India have had a really good season - even if you havent really got the results you deserved. Why is that?
Vijay Mallya: Well, I mean everything is relative: what is a good season and what is a not so good season? If you compare our performance over the last five years you will see that we are climbing up the ladder very surely and very, very steadily. It is not as if it is up one year and down the next year and up again the third. Compared to last year we have scored many more points this year: we are up to 99 points before the last race. These are probably more points than this team has ever scored in its history. I would have liked to be ahead of Sauber, but the only disappointment as of today is that we are behind Sauber. Otherwise very clearly we are meeting our target objectives. Luck does play a role in life - and certainly in Formula One as well. I think we had a couple of chances to be on the podium, which we missed as we came fourth. Our immediate rival teams Sauber and Williams were lucky to have had podium finishes, but that is not the cause of any regret. We just know that we have to work harder. If you look at the qualifying times from the Austin race, if I am not mistaken three positions were separated only by six one-hundredths of a second. On one hand we are working harder and harder to improve and enhance the performance every year. On the other hand Formula One itself is getting so competitive each year - particularly in the midfield. I would say that I am satisfied with the progress that we are making. Of course I would have hoped that we would have been one step higher in the constructors standings, but otherwise I also have to realize that miracles cannot happen overnight. (laughs)
Q: Both of your drivers are only in their second season. Are you satisfied with their development - and consequently the results they have delivered?
VM: Yes, two young drivers - and I would say the two young drivers with the most talent that I could see as future world champions. So yes, I am very happy with their performance.
Q: Nico Hulkenberg is leaving after this weekends race - do you already have a replacement for him in mind?
VM: We are thinking about it, but we are in no immediate hurry because there does not seem to be the kind of quality we need to replace Nico available, either in the current grid or in GP2. We have to think a little bit beyond that, which we are doing now.
Q: When do you think you will be ready for a decision - and on what basis will you make it?
VM: We need a driver who is clearly talented, a driver who is clearly quick. What we have found amongst our team drivers is that if they push one another it brings out the best in both of them, so it is very important for us to have somebody who is able to push Paul [di Resta]. So I am looking at options such as even bringing Adrian Sutil back. Adrian was always a very quick driver - yes, he was out of Formula One for one year, but I dont think that this would be a major handicap. So yes, I am looking and evaluating very carefully. The driver is very important for the team as a whole and we want to make the right call.
Q: You are one of the only entrepreneurs left running a Formula One team. That suggests you are still crazy about F1 racing. Is that so?
VM: Oh yes, I have always been crazy about Formula One. In fact, when the historic Formula One cars went out in Austin I was squirrelly like a little child watching them and I was saying to myself that I will bring the two Ensign Formula One cars that I used to race in the late seventies and early eighties to Austin next year and race myself (laughs)
Q: Four weeks ago we saw the second Indian Grand Prix. Would you say that Formula One racing is now a well-established brand in your home country?
VM: In India it is established all right, but I think it has not reached even one tenth of its potential. India is a vast country with a huge population - even if you take the middle class we are speaking about three hundred million of them who are potential Formula One fans. The race in India has done a lot of good to the sport in India. I think the Airtel Formula One Grand Prix in India was a very well-organized and well-run event by our race promoters. The inaugural race last year was a spectacular success and I think they outdid themselves this year and put on an even better show. Formula One is established in India, yes, and it will grow exponentially from here.
Q: One could also see that Force India have a huge following in India - that was very visible in the race when the fans on the grandstands cheered every time a Force India car passed by. Do you feel that?
VM: Of course I do. That was also one of the reasons I named the team Force India - to give all the Indian fans a home for their aspirations - and their force! And it is building up. Indians have a lot of national pride and they are getting behind us with every year. Think, only five years ago it was only a dream that India would ever have a Formula One team on the grid - and now that dream has come true and the support is exceptional.
Q: Enthusiasm and being crazy about Formula One racing is one thing, but coping with its financial realities - especially for the smaller teams - is quite another. Do you see anything on the horizon for the next one to two years to help these teams?
VM: At the end of the day I firmly believe that you cannot have Formula One dominated by the big teams, the car manufacturers. You need to have independent teams and they need some sort of a level playing field as well. The resource restriction that the commercial rights holder as well as the FIA has been talking about is something that needs to be implemented. That will give everybody a level of comfort and more of a level playing field. As far as Sahara Force India is concerned, we are alright. In fact both Sahara Sri Subrata Roy and myself went to see Bernie Ecclestone in Delhi during the Grand Prix and showed him that Force India was stable and financially safe.
Q: Force India are unlikely to go any higher in the standings this year, so the focus must be on next season. Whats the plan for new power and new energy?
VM: Ha, the power will be the same: a Mercedes engine! And the energy is definitely there. When speaking to our technical team we expect an even better car for 2013. We have shown that every year we get better, so we expect nothing less next season. But it is also time for us to look at capital investment [the board has recently approved a £50 million capital investment programme for the team]. In order to go up the ladder even further we need to have the tools and the facilities, so we are looking at some investments which will start paying out rich dividends in the future.
Q: And personally, are you still taking pride in being Force Indias team principal?
VM: Absolutely. I think that the more passion, the better the performance. I think you could call me a true racer - I wouldnt be here otherwise. (laughs)
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