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Exclusive Vijay Mallya Q&A: Force India can catch Williams

30 Jul 2014

With one of the best young driver pairings in Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, Force India have continued their tradition of punching above their weight this season. Going into the summer break they lie fifth in the constructors' table on 98 points - 39 up on this time last year.

And despite failing to score for the first time in 2014 in Hungary, team boss Vijay Mallya is confident his Mercedes-powered squad can continue their upward trend and take the fight to the Formula One frontrunners...

Q: Vijay, Force India held P4 in the constructors' standings for almost half the season - only after eight races were Williams able to move ahead, leaving you fifth for the moment...

Vijay Mallya: Yes, it was pretty cool in those last couple of months to see some of the historically big players behind us. Leaving Sunday's race aside - where we were extremely unlucky - we've done pretty well. Sunday was the first race where we didn't score points.

If I reflect on those first months of the year what I would say is that I'd like us to do better in qualifying. It was also an issue this weekend - probably if we had qualified better some of the issues wouldn't have come up. At some tracks - and Budapest is one of them - where you start from has a bigger influence on the result, because our long-run pace usually moves us further towards the front again. But, of course, I also know that you only score points in the race - and aside from Hungary we did score points in every single race. That is a huge statement for this team, which only a few years ago was struggling for a point. So we have taken a big step forward. But I always told my team to never underestimate the opposition, and we don't intend to. We must keep developing this car, as this same platform will continue into 2015. The competitiveness of this year's car will be carried through into 2015 as well.

Yes, we've been in fourth position up to the eighth race, and we're now sitting in P5, which is fine. We did not expect that we would reach forth and maintain it right through the season. The difference in points between Ferrari, Williams, us and McLaren is still not so dramatic that we don't believe that with a better race we can move forward. So as long as we are close enough I am not worried at all. That is the nature of Formula One racing. And we must never forget that at the last race it's going to be double points, which can change everything again. There is a huge amount of unpredictability on who will finish where in the constructors' championship - and the drivers' championship - this year, so it's a question of focusing, keeping it going and making sure that none of the other teams are taking too much of a lead in front of us. Because we can always catch up - it's still a long way to go.

Q: Have you been surprised by Williams' strong form, given that they were only ninth last season?

VM: I have not been surprised because they have chosen the Mercedes engine - just like us - and the powertrain is really, really important this year. Like us they have the best power unit, so that definitely gives them an advantage over where they were last year. And don't forget, in pre-season testing Williams showed their pace. It was very clear that they would be very competitive. In fact I was a bit surprised that they didn't do in the first couple of races what they've done in the last few races. So we definitely will not make the mistake of underestimating them.

Can we catch Williams? Yes, we can. We have to work hard at it as well, but as I just said, there's still a long way to go. They have done a great job and one should complement them for this - probably in the same way that we are doing well - unexpectedly - as a midfield, small team. The opportunity is there.

Q: Force India seem to be the role model for a small team being successful - even when the changes are as massive as they have been this season. What is the secret?

VM: From the times when this team was running at the back to the situation we have now, we've made the right decisions. In terms of the powertrain, we've entered into the right technical partnerships - initially with McLaren, now with Mercedes. We have people who are motivated and creative, and not people back in the factory who only complain about what they don't have but people who are committed to make the best of what they do have.

We are all here to race and get on the podium, to score points. I think this objective is very clear. My team doesn't have to be reminded of this. I think that the design and production guys as well as the race team are very encouraged by the fact that ever since I took over we always made the right selection of drivers. I am very proud of the driver line-up that we have today. We have two top-class drivers - and that motivates the team as well.

Q: Would you say that the driver line-up you have now is the strongest the team's ever had?

VM: Yes, I would say so. Looking at each of them individually I have to say that their driving style is different, but both of them are very competitive and talented.

Q: Would you prefer both drivers to have a similar style, or does the difference give you more chances to try different set-ups and strategies?

VM: It is a challenge, yes, because the set-up of the car is significantly different on both cars - but as I said, it's an opportunity as well. How many times have we had a different pit-stop strategy for one driver compared to the other which has worked very well for us?

Q: Did you choose your two drivers in full knowledge of those differences, thinking that you should always have a chance of at least one good result?

VM: No. When we decided that we would have a brand new driver line-up for 2014 it was clear that we wanted Nico Hulkenberg back and then there was much speculation about who would be the second driver. I had discussions with my team and I had just one point to make - Checo Perez was chosen by McLaren. Let's forget about his tenure at McLaren. The fact that McLaren chose him means that they saw something in him - and McLaren is a top team. So he obviously has a talent - and we should have him. And we are very happy with him.

Q: When looking back at what has been a quite successful season so far, is there anything in hindsight that you would have done differently?

VM: We deserved a bit of better luck. Take what happened on Sunday. Take what happened in Montreal. If those incidents hadn't happened it would have meant a bag full of more points. Lady Luck certainly hasn't been smiling on us as much as I would have liked! (laughs) But be it as it may, we take it in the right spirit.

Q: We have heard suggestions again this year about customer cars, or the big teams running a third car - what would that mean for the smaller teams?

VM: Customer cars would be disastrous. Not just for the paddock but also for the sport. The DNA of Formula One has always been about passionate teams. When you look at the history of how these teams started - be it Ferrari, Williams, Brabham or McLaren - they have all been entrepreneurs and racing enthusiasts passionately going racing in what evolved to become this big thing called Formula One. That's part of our DNA. And if a small team gets ahead of a bigger team, the amount of enthusiasm and fan support is fantastic. My understanding of the reports I get is that in the recent races where Williams has been doing so well, the whole level of excitement has almost doubled. People like to see a small team take on the big boys. Why should that change?

Q: Some might say that among the team principals, Frank Williams, Ron Dennis and you are the last true 'petrol heads' in the paddock...

VM: Ha, we are petrol heads because otherwise we wouldn't be here! I think we petrol heads add to the excitement of the sport. It's the passion - and not the corporate idea - that drives us!

Q: The remainder of the season - what's your plan? If Lady Luck smiles on you more often...

VM: The DNA of this team is to fight for every point and position, so it's not a matter of the first or second half of the season...

Q: But ultimately don't you go about the second half of the season more strategically?

VM: There is no strategic decision per se that drives performance. Performance comes from what's in the car and how the drivers drive it. Whatever pre-ordained strategy you might have is not necessarily going to deliver the result. Our team knows the job: that means always maximum points - and maximum points will determine our position in the constructors' championship. Every race we are focused on performance.

Q: So are you in the middle of your best F1 season?

VM: Yes. Eleven races, 98 points... that is a track record to shout about - even if we would have had much more to show with a bit better luck.