Q & A with Vijay Mallya
|By Simon Strang||Monday, March 2nd 2009, 17:51 GMT|
Q. You launched your new car here. How's things?
Vijay Mallya: I think the guys at the factory did a brilliant job on the car and getting it ready for this test. I have to only say one thing to you: even though we do not have too much mileage yet on this car, I asked Adrian Sutil the first question after the shakedown at Silverstone, 'How does it feel?' He said, 'It is a completely different car from last year and it feels really good.'
I called Giancarlo from Bombay last night after he had some laps yesterday, and we had some fuel pressure problems which are hopefully sorted out now, and he said the car is extremely promising and there was a certain excitement. So when my drivers are excited, and they feel that the car has promise and potential, then that is encouraging for me.
Q. Are you concerned that you may not have that much time to develop the car given that it is raining in Jerez?
VM: From what I have been told all the other teams that have tested in the Algarve and Bahrain have also encountered bad weather. So I believe that the teams don't have as much mileage under their belts as they would like to have had, but the weather forecast in Jerez is going to be the same for the next couple of days. We will just have to make the best use of it.
Q. Last year was your first as a team principal. What have you learnt that will help you prepare for this season?
VM: To begin with I was not the team principal last year, but I am actually glad that I am this year because... if you go around and speak to the guys in the garage or in the factory, there is a sense of excitement, a very positive energy, a great spirit. There is hope. There is a desire to perform and gain results. The morale and spirit of this team is completely different to what it was last year.
People feel that we are a lot more professional, we have better systems and procedures and allocation of job responsibility. We have learned a lot through McLaren, particularly because of Simon Roberts who has been seconded to us as chief operating officer of Force India.
He has brought a lot of the processes and management techniques, and it is a completely changed team. It goes far beyond a new look and a new livery - we really are very hopeful this year that we are going to be in the points.
Q. What is your opinion on car sharing? Do you think future rules should allow it or ban it?
VM: We have had this discussion before. Red Bull and Toro Rosso have some special dispensation until the end of this year. We are fine with it; they had this last year as well. I think the important point is how does this fit in with the FIA's determination to cut the costs in Formula One? I think in the world economic scenario as it is today, clearly there is a very acute need to cut the costs of F1. ING and RBS have announced that they will stop their sponsorship and I am not surprised.
These are signs of trouble, and if all the teams try to spend money indiscriminately then F1 will suffer, and suffer big time. So I entirely agree with Max (Mosley) and Bernie (Ecclestone) that they are completely determined to lower the costs. Some of the manufacturers may not care, but the small independent teams certainly care. Because we are a small independent team, it does not mean we want to be handicapped in our competitiveness – there has to be some sort of level playing field, which is what I think the FIA and FOM are working on.
The Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) has come a long way. There are several things that have been agreed in recent months that I never thought would ever be agreed, by all the teams. The past history of F1 is that every team agrees to disagree, but FOTA has brought everybody to the same table and there is a common approach.
So if going forward, such cooperation as exists between Red Bull and Toro Rosso must be extended to other teams as well. It's good for F1.
Q. In the future would you consider using McLaren chassis?
VM: That would be a complete customer car and that is not on the table for anybody now. I believe that even from 2010, Toro Rosso will have to build its own chassis. That's the way the current regulations are written, but as I said, the more teams are allowed to share common parts and stuff like that between themselves then obviously that lowers the cost.
Q. What's your view on the Honda team and the fact that they are going to share Mercedes engines with you as well?
VM: Well, the FIA rules say that an engine manufacturer can only supply two teams. As far as Mercedes is concerned, that's McLaren and Force India. I think a special one-year dispensation, I understand, has been granted for Mercedes to supply the ex-Honda team just to keep it on the grid.
I could have objected but I chose not to because it is good for F1. Nobody likes to see a team disappear. We had unfortunately Super Aguri disappear last year and I don't think it is good for the sport that one more team goes.
We all have to recognise that we have to sometimes be more positive to keep the sport intact. I believe in 2010 the costs can be brought down significantly, where it is not unlimited expenditure and a lack of comparison between income and expense. If the costs are brought down to a level where one can ably demonstrate, as I believe Max and Bernie want to do, that this is a viable business where the costs are under control then there will be even more teams. There is no reason why we can't have 24 cars and that is good for the sport.
Q. There is a lot of razzamatazz in the Indian Premier League. Do you think F1 could benefit from some of that?
VM: There are countries in Europe where cricket is completely irrelevant. People in Italy, Germany and Spain I don't think even understand the game. But they are passionate about F1. Equally in India, cricket is like a religion and I guess cricket is also extremely popular in commonwealth countries and of course Great Britain as well.
So my acquisition of (Kevin) Pietersen and the Chennai Super Kings of (Andrew) Flintoff was bound to create waves. But F1 is growing significantly in popularity in India, in terms of TV viewership, but more importantly Force India has partnered with MTV, which is one of the most popular channels in India to produce a reality show called 'Fast and Gorgeous'.
As you know last year we had the Kingfisher Speed Divas at the track at every race. This year we are actually launching a reality show along the lines of Big Brother to actually identify, through a TV competition, four Speed Divas for the 2009 season. So that's created a lot of excitement.
Q. Is Adrian Sutil going to be part of the show?
VM: Absolutely. Adrian and Giancarlo are our stars and they are gaining in popularity in India. These are our strengths. Every team promotes their drivers.
Q. If you could bid for Lewis Hamilton, how far would you go?
VM: I really haven't though about it. I think for Lewis Hamilton you are not only paying for exceptional driving abilities but also for his star value. Alonso in Spain particularly is priceless, or Michael Schumacher. If I were to bid for a driver I would bid purely for driving ability rather than for star power.
Q. Why is that?
VM: Because I can create my own buzz around my brand, around the team, like we are doing with MTV and this reality show. I don't have to spend several millions acquiring stardom.
Q. You have done a partnership with Draco. Is that part of your plan to develop young drivers for F1?
VM: I have committed myself to finding an Indian driver. I have said publicly that among 1.2 billion people there has to be an [Indian] Lewis Hamilton somewhere. So it is a question of having the programmes, the system and the approach to identify that person. And we will and we are doing it already.
It's also a question of the motorsport structure in India itself. We have to start at the lowest level of karting and we have karting tracks. Not all of them are up to international standard where one could spot someone who could eventually get to F1.
But there are some tracks that are and it is a question of organising the right events. Then we will have the right people to try and spot these people and, once they are identified, then Force India will give them all the opportunities, sponsorship, whatever it takes to bring them up to international level and eventually up the ladder to F1.
Q. What about Narain Karthikeyan given that he is India's most successful driver?
VM: He may have been India's most successful driver, but if you put Karthikeyan in the car today and compare him with the other alternatives I have I don't know how well he'd measure up. In any case he has no interest in driving for FI which he has publicly said and I have no interest in hiring him either
Q. Have you set a points target for the year?
VM: It is difficult to say: 'I need so many points'. But to be in the points on a regular basis is obviously the objective, and with all the effort that we have put into this car there is no reason why not. The proof in the pudding is at the races and there is no point in speculating.
Maybe some teams have the luxury of speculating on race wins but we aren't there yet. Last year was a major learning curve for us, and this year we have to get our act together properly. There are no miracles in this sport where fractions of a second mean two or three places, and it would be silly of me to make assumptions. But we will be in the points and I feel pretty good about that.
Q. Many people think that F1 costs too much, did you ever think you were wasting money?
VM: Yes. I would entirely agree F1 costs too much and that's precisely why Max and Bernie are doing all they can to bring down the costs.
Q. What is the thing that wastes the most money?
VM: A lot of money goes into research and development. A lot of money went into testing until in-season testing was banned. But these are only two components of costs, there are several more. I mean the engines are very expensive, the gearbox was very expensive and now all of those have a fixed price ceiling and I think all this helps. The engine and gearbox cost for Force India is down by 50%.
Q. Are you considering cutting the number of staff?
VM: I have told Simon Roberts that he needs to look very carefully at the staff. Thank god we are not a completely over-staffed team. We have 260 people as compared to some teams that have 800-900 people. But it is a question of how many people travel to the races. I mean, is everyone required? Travelling costs money.
We are very conscious of all our costs and we will look at them. We are not in this game to make money. In these economic situations it is very important that you stretch every Euro and get the maximum value from it.
Q. From your point of view, is F1 a sporting challenge, a business or is it just a show?
VM: F1 is a spectacular show. Every sport is a show. If you take the Olympics, you have a spectacular opening ceremony, and another closing ceremony. It's a show people like to watch, it's entertaining, it's thrilling and people get a kick out of it. So F1 is a spectacular and very entertaining sport, but that does not mean that F1 becomes completely commercially unviable.
That is the realisation today of the FIA, FOM and now FOTA as well. They all say we need to make this financially viable.