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Exclusive Vijay Mallya Q&A: Force India can still catch McLaren

04 Nov 2014

Force India’s hopes of overhauling McLaren for P5 in the constructors’ championship suffered a blow in the United States when both of their cars failed to finish. But with two races to go - including the double points finale in Abu Dhabi - team principal and managing director Vijay Mallya remains optimistic that the Silverstone-based squad can catch their more-fancied rivals, as he explains in this exclusive interview…

Q: Vijay, you predicted that the battle with McLaren for P5 in the constructors’ championship would go down to the wire. Austin was an unfortunate weekend for Force India and now McLaren are 24 points ahead - can you still catch them?
Vijay Mallya:
Absolutely. We have double points at the last race and that can turn everything around again, so we will continue fighting until the very end!

Q: After a lot of initial scepticism about double points, many are now viewing it as a welcome chance to improve their positions…
In Russia McLaren really bagged big points and then the Austin race was very unfortunate for us, with Checo being a bit too over-optimistic and Nico retiring. Our cars were competitive in the race so my hope was that we would head to Brazil having closed the points gap to McLaren rather than it widening by four more points. But as I just said, there is still the potential to turn things around.

Q: What will it take? Do you still have something magic up your sleeve?
I am sure that McLaren will try their best - and so will we. Our cars are competitive and the drivers are equally good - and it all has to come together. It has come together for us in previous races and it came together for McLaren in Sochi, so there is no reason why it shouldn’t swing our way again in the next race - and then we head to Abu Dhabi.

Q: Nico has suffered some hiccups lately. Why is that? In the five races prior to Austin, Checo was in the points at every one…
Well, set-up plays a very important part in how competitive a car is. Both drivers have different driving styles so individual set-ups are very important. So sometimes it happens that the set-up doesn’t quite allow the driver to perform to his optimal best. Remember we are talking about two or three-tenths of a second - it isn’t a one-second gap. So when the margins are so thin it is difficult to make a judgment…

Q: Nevertheless you’ve already confirmed Nico as one of your drivers for 2015 - a pretty early announcement for Force India…
Ha, there is no special reason for that. If you had asked me earlier in the season I would have said that I am very happy with both guys and want to keep them - and that continues to be the case.

Q: So your 2015 driver line-up is already settled: you want to keep both and it is just a matter of timing as to when the second will be announced?
Absolutely. I am happy with both of them and like to keep them.

Q: Force India are known for being stronger in races than in qualifying. At some tracks that is really hurting you. Can you explain that weakness?
There is a significant difference between one-lap pace and race pace. That is the nature of Formula One racing - and I am a firm believer that you score the points in the race! (laughs) So it is better to have a car that has good race pace and relatively lower tyre degradation than one that is blindingly quick in qualifying and poor in the race. This situation is what we keep talking about a lot in the team. If you are very lucky you get both optimized: you are quick in qualifying and you are also quick in the race. But sometimes one is to the marginal cost of the other. Look at Williams: they’ve got it together on both. At the start of the season we were ahead of them - now they are ahead of Ferrari, and of course we are inspired to do the same. It is all a question of optimization.

Q: Is there anybody you really would love to sign in terms of drivers? You spoke very highly of Valtteri Bottas…
My first choice would be Fernando Alonso. Still. He is probably among the top two drivers on the grid.

Q: Who is the other one?
I would have to say Lewis Hamilton. But if I had the choice I would go for Fernando. I know it is not possible, but there is no harm in wishful thinking! (laughs)

Q: The season is almost over, so it’s fair to look back: would you say the massive rules changes have paid off?
I think they have paid off. The engine was a major step forward in technology and that is what Formula One is all about: being at the cutting edge of technology, to be at the pinnacle of technology and then apply it to everyday life.

Q: 2014 was also a very costly season because of those changes - will it get easier next year?
No, It won’t. The price for this engine will not change - it is significantly higher than the previous engine and it will stay that way. There will not be a significant chance to save, except that much of this year’s car design can be carried into next year as well.

Q: We saw only 18 cars on the grid in Austin. Some might say that makes a strong case for third cars. As the frontrunner among the ‘smaller’ teams, what is your opinion on that?
Well, I don’t subscribe to the theory of the third car. Let’s say you had three Mercedes cars running in Austin: the podium would have been Mercedes-Mercedes-Mercedes. That is not good for F1. And the idea of the third cars not scoring full points - or only half points - would complicate the situation quite badly and I cannot imagine that the fans would appreciate that.

Q: Next year your power unit supplier Mercedes will equip Lotus instead of McLaren. Does that change anything for you?
No, that will not bother us. We believe that the Mercedes engine is the best engine available - and we have it. Our car has to be competitive given that fact that we have a top class engine.

Q: Coming back to the teams’ pecking order, what would you give to end up in P5?
It is not a question of sacrificing. Monetarily P5 or P6 doesn’t make all that difference. If I go crazy and spend extraordinary sums of money to get P5 then the net benefit would actually be less - then I would be stupid. So it is more of a feelgood factor: to finish in P5 to see that we are moving the team forward - that in 2014 the team has scored more points than in its entire history - given the fact that seven years ago we started with zero points and now we are fighting McLaren!