Force India decision makers log jammed over both 2013 driver choices

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Di Resta confirmed debate

I am amazed at the people who are certain Paul Di Resta is driving for Force India in 2013. I have been repeatedly questioned in my assertion that Force India have not announced this. Prior to today I’ve been repeatedly told he has a seat fitting and that Vijay told us in September he would be offering an extension to his drivers – as rumours of Hulkenbergs departure began to surface.

We’ve seen today the value of an F1 driving ‘contract’ as the likeable Timo Glock departs F1. For those ‘unbelievers’ who think Di Resta is a done deal, google something like ‘Force India announce Di Resta’ – and you will see a plethora of news stories about the announcements made for the season just ended.

Where is the 2013 confirmation. Further, Formula1.com, who can be tardy at times, have for some time refused to put up Di Rest’a name against the Force India logo, so both driver picture slots  are blank. Formula1.com. They have been contacted to point out a possible ‘oversight’ with a view to getting this matter corrected. They apparently have ‘no confirmation of this appointment and have not intentionally or unintentionally misrepresented the position of the Force India team line up’.

It may be that Paul Di Resta does drive for Force India in 2013 – but there are lengthy conversations going on over the ownership of Force India, who its partners will be and therefore there are a number of parties who have influence on who will drive for the team in 2013.

A Team for sale 

Most things in life are for sale at the right price, so to suggest Force India are up for sale is hardly the news of the century. However, TJ13 reported on Friday, “Whispers that FI have a ‘concrete offer’ on the table to sell”  talks between Bernie Ecclestone, Flavio Briatore and Colin Kolles over matters financial pertaining to the Force India team.

For those not in the know, the Formula.com website is owned and run by FOM – the company that manages the commercial side of F1 – under the auspices of one Mr. Bernie Ecclestone.

Where is Vijay’s announced $80m investment coming from?

In indignant Bob Fearnley responding to the reports last Friday insisted any sale of the team was a preposterous idea, insisting “Our shareholder Vijay and Sahara are incredibly strong. They don’t need partners. As we speak, we are putting together and implementing an expansion programme that Vijay talked about at the end of last year”.

He added something I found quite revealing, “For the last four years, coming now to our fifth year, the team the team has been financed without any dependence on the shareholders’ companies that they own”.

This is either true or a blatant cover up, which would be not unfair to expect from Bob – as his role at Force India for some time is akin to the small boy in the Dutch folk tale – who has most importantly put his finger in hole of the dyke.

If it is true, then I’m speechless. I explain in Friday’s article how the Force India website and the presentation of their sponsors is set up – and this statement belies belief whilst perversely adding credence to the ‘up for sale’ and ‘new investor’ stories all the more.

The announced investment Bob refers to followed the usual round of chats Mr. Ecclestone has in November to discover who is still solvent and likely to make the grid in Melbourne. The ‘investment’  was new money, nothing to do with Concorde deals or prize funds for the WCC finishing position. If the shareholders’ companies are not coughing up, then who is? The list of ‘minor sponsors’ do not have that kind of interest or clout.

One think is for certain, Vijay, the so called ‘King of good times’ and his pal, amusingly named Subrata Roy of Sahara (not of the desert) – are masters at self publicity and wouldn’t shirk a chance to tell the world it was them investing in the Silverstone based team.

That aside – Vijay  and Rob Roy have the biggest fight on each of their hands to save their respective Indian empires as the national authorities are closing in. thejudge13 has followed these tales since September at launch – use the search bar and find the ‘Mallya’ and ‘Force India’ reports – there are many.

Engines for 2014

It has been widely rumoured that Force India tare talking to Ferrari about 2014 engines, and due to the misconception over Di Resta, the stories have pretty much run along the lines that Ferrari want the young french driver Jules Bianchi to take the Hulkenberg seat.

TJ13 reader enzomaiorca commented today in another article, “there are some new rumors in the Italian media, that there are some lifelines for Force India besides being (partly) sold, if they decide to use Ferrari engines in 2014, give Bianchi a seat and become a satellite team for the Scuderia, they would get the engines for a very friendly price, and with the new turbo engines costing clients up to €20 million a year, it’s a substantial financial injection.

That would give them some air, not Di Resta though,because they could combine the Bianchi/Ferrari deal with the arrival of Luiz Razia, the young Brazilian is said to bring with him a $30 million sponsor budget, if Force India could seal both deals the future looks bright again. Di Resta’s nervousness is very understandable, he could be on his way out.”

Bianchi/Razia at Force India?

I was trading email with an Italian friend of mine last week who is connected with F1 and he suggested Razia to me then, following comments he made on Radio Globo. He claimed to have assembled a number of sponsors that could assist him getting the Force India drive. “To debut on a good team like Force India would really accelerate the process of coming to a really good team in two or three years.

If I had no sponsors, I would pack my bags and go home now.”

Yet I have to say, I had a certain reticence over this scenario. Razia is quick but erratic, maybe Maldonado-esque. He has raced for 5 teams in 4 years in GP2 with a table finishing best of 8th before his drive for Arden (owned Red Bull’s Christian Horner 😉 ) in 2012. He finished second in the title race – a mere 25 points behind Italian Davide Valsecci (There are 48 points available at a GP2 weekend – Sprint race winner 15, Feature race winner 25, 4 points for pole in the feature race and 2 points for the fastest lap in both races).

However if he does have that kind of money behind him – and as yet we have no information on who would provide it – he could very well get a seat in F1 2013.

Complex negotiations are the explanation

If Force India are having talks with both Ferrari and other possible ‘investors’ it is much more explicable why the 2013 driver lineup is log jammed. Imagine the competing views and opinions of Luca de Montezemolo, Bernie Ecclestone, Flavio Briatore together with Vijay and his hustling mate Rob Roy. Maybe they will never decide???

In conclusion, I return to where we began – Paul Di Resta who is a Mercedes’ sponsored driver, but what does that mean now. I do not believe he has the kind of cash behind him that was paid to McLaren to assist funding Lewis Hamilton and with the expiration of the engine deals this year – I posit his position looks extremely tenuous.

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14 responses to “Force India decision makers log jammed over both 2013 driver choices

  1. Totally random thought, inspired by the Dutch boy, but Greg Dyke is taking it rather easy lately, thinking about who might fill the gap if Bernie is distracted.

  2. On topic, it may be as simple as those complicated negotiations are willing parties having to get around existing loan covenants. I imagine that any money lent to FI lately will have come with extensive conditions, and it’s very easy to end up hands tied in unexpected ways, when you’ve little choice of funding. That could easily extend to say in driver lineup, and I suppose it is possible that bringing in someone new to replace existing finance, which existing finance comes with strings, might be a good move if it also brings change and more sponsor money.

    Obviously I haven’t got a clue, nor have I had a spare moment since I first thought to go trawling offshore companies for hints (the British Library has some very extensive commercial databases) many moons ago. But whilst I’m giving benefit of the doubt on the upside here, loan covenants can include things like how much paid up equity there is, how solvent are shareholders, and so on, and that might trigger the “incredibly strong” protestation. TBH covenants can include just about anything, but if there’s a actual bid lurking about for equity, saying “incredibly strong” to the public really isn’t persuading much, so I don’t understand it in that context. Saying the company is self financing, however, does smack more of saying the shares are worth more. Still, not sure anything can be made of it. Even curiouser is the idea that to my mind it’s possible to interpret ” the team the team has been financed without any dependence on the shareholders’ companies that they own” in a way that makes me wonder just exactly what is being paid for those Kingfisher and Sahara logos. Tealeaves and rabbit holes, methinks.

  3. I’ve asked this on a number of forums but never seen an answer:

    To what extent does Paul’s drive depend on Mercedes. What does he bring to the team?

    If he is linked to the engine supply then it would need considerable sponsorship to replace him. Not just the cost of the engines, but also the likelyhood of worse results and a lower final place in the WCC.

    My feeling is that without knowing what Paul brings to the team financially it is impossible to tell how secure he is. I would hope, also, that the team recognise the benefit of continuity so would be trying to keep to improve their chances this coming season. However, Force India have always been a bit difficult to read so I suspect we won’t know the answer until the grid lines up in Melbourne…

    • He’s certainly within the Mclaren/Mercedes circle. I think the idea is to get a link to free/discounted Ferrari engines for 2014 as the cost per unit will be going up.

      If you look at the reality of switching to Ferrari engines right before launch 2013 is going to be a write off. They’d have to redesign the car for the engine and get familiar with the new Ferrari components. I know Brawn pulled it off but there was major changes for everyone that year and they got lucky with the Double Diffuser. Also remember that FI’s main competitor is Sauber and they’ve replaced both drivers so this would be the best opportunity to do a complete change up.

      • I think the idea is to use the Ferrari engines in 2014, not 2013, if they can reach an agreement with Ferrari for 2014, i’m sure this will mean Bianchi gets the 2013 seat, for the other seat i suspect the’d want a pay driver with deep pockets. (Razia?)

    • Absolutely right in some regards – and wonderfully romantic in others (he says grinning).

      Correct: Unless we know the contribution Mercedes makes to FI – either in terms of discount on engines from market rate/cost or in terms of a cash rebate or other benefits in kind – we cannot make a judgement.

      We can however apply some deductive reasoning. Firstly this whole issue is topical because FI have not recently confirmed their driver line up – and even in Bob F’s statement on Friday – he fueled these fires rather than damping them down with carefully chosen words on driver lineup.

      Further, we know for a fact the 2014 engines will be significantly more expensive than the present V8’s. Such that a number of comments have been made by leaders of customer teams concerned about this.

      I don’t have the links to hand I’m afraid, and I think one of the comments was made by Graeme L of Marrusia on the FOTA fans forum – the inference being 20m euro’s will be highly punitive on their budgets.

      We can therefore deduce the present 16 engines per team per year are way less than 20m. No engine manufacturer forces a team to have a particular driver over the life of an engine contract, but they entice them with arrangements if they comply.

      Should someone like Razia turn up and deliver sponsorship of 20m euro’s the net position for FI is better than the discount presently received from Mercedes for the 2013 engines.

      We return to the source of the problem – again – Mr. E’s F1 financing model. When a team like Williams receives nearly half its annual income from Venezuelan oil then Bernie’s prize money for finishing 5,6,7 or 8th in the WCC becomes irrelevant when considering whether continuity would deliver them better results.

      And here was the reason Barichello was exited, not for being publicly vocal about the quality of the 2011 car.

      Hence, continuity and who is the better driver – I respectfully suggest – is ‘Romantic’ in the cruel 21st century world of F1. IMHO

      • “Williams receives nearly half its annual income from Venezuelan oil”

        And when you add in what Senna brought it was close to 65% of Williams revenues.

      • I can’t recall if I saw it on here or elsewhere but someone made the point a few months back that Renault was going around ‘buying up’ teams in preparation for 2014. The theory being that the more teams they can get the easier it is to spread the costs around.

        If this is the case then maybe the Force India engine supply and associated drivers could well be a more convoluted issue than it appears at first. Would Mercedes just roll over and let them be poached by Ferrari, leaving potentially only two teams to spread development costs across? Maybe bringing Ferrari in to the equation is just a way to try and get a better deal from Merc, maybe for this year as well as next.

        I do think continuity has some benefits. If you can get a Maldonado on board with a massive budget then the money will win out. If the extra money isn’t so significant then I still feel that overall performance will allow you to attract more premium sponsors and would make the team a higher point of call for well funded drivers in future. Championship position isn’t valuable just for Bernie’s prize money.

        • It was me that was critical of the since departed head of Renault motorsport’s assertion – that they would only be interested in 3 customer teams in 2014 particularly and not those who trailed around at the back – making the Renault brand look bad. I argued that more was cheaper on the R&D share.

          Co-incidentally since the retirement of the aforementioned individual, Renault now have Toro Rosso declared for 2014 and of course RB, Lotus, Williams and Caterham also in the stable at present. Let’s see if 5 goes into 3.

          Exclusivity is fine when you don’t have to recoup $100m plus ASAP.

  4. Force India’s owners always struck me as ponzi scheme operators. It’s widely reported that Eddie Jordan sold the team to Midland for around $125M. It’s then sold to Spkyer for $105M. Spkyer sells it to Mallya for $90M. Rebranded as Force India, with no outside sponsors, though better race results, Sahara in 2011 buys 50% for $100m putting the teams worth at around $235M, an increase in value of 250% in three years. To put that in some perspective Force India is worth the same as Williams and Lotus and double that of Toro Rosso. It seems to me that Force India was viewed by Mercedes as as a development team for them. There was always a German driver on the team and technical help from them and McLaren. With Mercedes cutting back on the money it spends on its partners, and McLaren cutting back on technology transfers and no real money being injected into the team from its owners, Force India seem to now have been exposed as a sham and plaything for Mallya. Does it make sense for Ferrari or one of its partners to control the team? Maybe, they certainly could afford it, though Ferrari already has a good relationship with Sauber who have shown to be much more solid than Force India.

    • True, but the idea is that Force India become a satellite team for Ferrari, like Torro Rosso and Red Bull.
      Sauber has a good relationship with Ferrari and side with the Scuderia on poltical calls, but are not at Ferrari’s disposal like Torro Rosso is for Red Bull.

      • It may just be me, but I think the whole satellite team option isn’t viable in the long term. Red Bull got extremely lucky with Vettel but in the three years since we haven’t seen anything from Toro Rosso worth noting. Many drivers in the lower formulas have already made it clear that they won’t go to Toro Rosso because of the treatment of their drivers, if everyone starts buying out teams to make satellite teams I could see alot of drivers being weary of jumping into F1 in case they don’t produce miracle results and are dumped two years in.

      • The questions I have are twofold. First, does Ferrari really need a development team? And secondly, do development teams really work? On the first the answer is clearly no. Ferrari can outbid any team in F1 and get any driver they want today. On the second question of do development teams really work, I would have to say that has yet to be resolved. Sure we can all point to Vettel but look at the other Red Bull development drivers that are or have been with Toro Rosso. Vergne, Ricciardo, Alguersuari, Buemi, Bourdais. None of whom look / looked like champions in waiting when they actually did get an F1 drive.

    • A plaything is fine when you’re on the up – but when you are continually the national ‘bad business’ news story and are hounded by a plethora of your home nations authorities for cash – F1 is not the place to be.

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