The last few weeks have generated loads of news regarding the financial situation of the Sahara Force India Formula 1 team, especially regarding its sale.
Ever since Force India made to F1 after buying Spyker, the team over the years has been subjected to huge amount of speculations regarding its future but it has still seen 10 years of racing already.
A race win hasn’t come but the team has scored podiums along with fastest laps and even a pole position. The particular rumours regarding Force India’s sale to Rich Energy Ltd picked up hugely at the start of the current season.
It continued on despite the team putting those down with the team’s co-owner Vijay Mallya categorically stating that he will only consider or accept an offer if there’s money straight up on the table to buy Force India.
Last week, a host of German publications reported on the sale of the team to Canadian business tycoon Lawrence Stroll, whose son Lance competes for Williams. The report added that the team will enter into a ‘controlled administration’ process soon.
This will thus allow Force India to still continue running in the races, while the financial troubles are sorted outside that purview. Sergio Perez admitted the critical situation ahead of Hunagrian GP, which has been concurred by the team’s COO Otmar Szafnauer.
Latest reports suggests that Force India is already in the process of administration after filing for ‘winding up’ in the UK court. While admitting that the team needs money ‘imminently’, Szafnauer added that it is only a matter of a ‘week or two’ before it gets sorted.
“I think it’s [fresh finance is] imminent,” he said. “I know there’s discussions going on in the background. I’m not privy to those because it’s a shareholder issue and I’m not a shareholder, otherwise I would know more. But it will be very soon.
“There is a high correlation between critical financial situation and the sporting situation. The more money you have in this game, usually the better you do. But hopefully that will be solved soon and we’ll get back to operating in the normal manner that we are used to.
“We are just in this critical period, which might last a week or two, we have to keep our heads down, do the best we can here, go enjoy, after the test, enjoy our break and then come back fighting thereafter.”
One of the reasons Szafnauer gave for the critical situation is the growing fight among the midfield teams, which has hindered Force India’s performance growth where they find themselves in a big battle to retain fourth against Renault, Haas and McLaren.
“We’re used to operating under such constraints,” he said. “I think the situation’s critical because the midfield’s gotten very competitive. Where last year probably at this time we enjoyed a bit of a gap to our midfield competitors, that doesn’t exist anymore.
“Depending on what racetrack we go to, some of our competitors are a bit quicker than we are, and at other ones we are a bit quicker than they are. So, it’s going to be a big fight in the midfield.
“If you have financial constraints – which I believe our constraints are great than some of our midfield competitors – it makes it harder. But we’re here to do the best we can and we’ll continue to push and try to get two points finishes and we’re still focussing on getting fourth again.”
Along with Stroll, it has emerged the team’s development driver Nikita Mazepin’s father Dimitry is also interested in investing in the team – if not buying, but making a certain financial investment. It remains to be seen what comes out of it.
For some years now, Sahara which holds 42.5 percent stake has wanted to sell off its shares but since the price was put high, it didn’t fancy many buyers. The reported Stroll’s buy-out talks about a full sale instead of part stake.
The other 42.5 percent is held by Mallya, while the remainder 15 percent is with Michiel Mol. If we go by Mallya’s statements, it more looks like a selling of Sahara’s stake and perhaps certain amount from Mallya and or Mol’s.
But the confirmation will only come in a week or two. For now, it seems like the team is confident to continue competing in the season under the Force India name, which most certainly will be changed once the new investment comes in from 2019.
Meanwhile, there was a talk of Mercedes making it their B-team, but at least Toto Wolff had made it clear that he cannot hold any stake in any other team apart from the factory Mercedes outfit – that is why he sold off his shares in HWA and Williams long back.
On the driver subject, if the Strolls do come in, Lance will certainly be part of the set-up alongside Perez, if things go well. The speculated move of Esteban Ocon to Renault seems like happening after Wolff gave it a clearance.
“We have picked Esteban up when Gravity fell apart and the first team that he was actually associated with was Renault,” he said. “We at the time had just started our junior programme and it just felt right with Pascal and Esteban to give them a go.
“To date we are trying to set them a path that eventually will make them very successful long term; put then a position to be world champions maybe one day. But with Valtteri and Lewis we have a line-up that is stable, that works for us.
“At this stage there is no opportunity within Mercedes and if he has an opportunity somewhere else to be successful as a racing driver and another team or constructor to be successful with Esteban, we wouldn’t want to stand in the way.”
Szafnauer added: “We can do whatever we want to do. It’s fine for him to go, but we have to agree to that. I’m sure Toto has persuasive tools, if that’s what we all want to do. We work well together.
“We had great discussions about Esteban when he came in and if it’s mutually beneficial then of course that’s what we are going to do. We won’t stand in his way. But first and foremost my job is to look after Force India, so I will be pushing to do what’s best for us.”