The ongoing saga that is Force India continues a pace with the team going into administration last weekend, with their own driver Sergio Perez and the engine supplier Mercedes Benz at the front of the creditor queue.
A remarkable but not wholly unsurprising turn of events.
The team have been in financial difficulty for years with the principle owner Vijay Mallya dodging Indian government extradition attempts for fraudulent activities.
During the court hearing last week, all attendees bar one were after monies owed. The only party interested in handing out money to the team in a bid to stave off collapse were the billionaire conglomerate backed Rich Energy drinks company – a recently started energy drinks company headed by the very unconventional looking William Storey.
Storey claims to be backed by several ‘offshore’ billionaires, some of which we know to be true as the company is mostly owned by David Sullivan and David Gold, very wealthy owners of West Ham United, an English football club.
Rich Energy claim to see F1 as a launch pad to push their product into the mainstream. Currently the drink is marketed for expensive Hotels and exclusive night clubs.
The fact is, that the Rich Energy consortium had indeed proceeded forward with a purchase deal as far back as May 2018, as we reported when an unconfirmed source revealed to us the deal had been done with Force India during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend.
It seems however that proceedings had stalled for reasons unknown, although Storey hints at Mallya ‘believing his lawyers too much’, revealing that it was they who persuaded him to renege and go for a better deal that Rich Energy had to offer.
Now we’re in the situation where the wolves of F1 are tearing into what’s left of Force India, and the team have found themselves in the middle of a political power struggle.
On one side, we see Williams, McLaren and more notably a manufacturer in Renault fearing that Formula 1 will be sucked further into a two tier championship. Something that’s already happened to a certain extent, just look back at Silverstone GP this year.
Those teams are actively attempting to stop any handover of ownership from receiving the prize money owed from previous championship positions, estimated to be worth $150m. Further, any new owner would need to register the outfit as a brand new team, and would not be entitled to its own share of the prize pot for its first couple of seasons.
They have concerns that by doing so it may become a satellite of a manufacturer – in this case Mercedes – in all but name. It’s rather unclear why exactly why such a move would prevent this as if anything removing the incentive for a private buyer to rescue the team, would further increase the likelihood of Force India to be a Mercedes B team.
The only other modus operandi is one of scorched Earth, forcing the team to collapse therefore making it impossible for the team to survive.
Team boss Toto Wolff dismisses the fear explaining to BBC Sport:
“We don’t like the concept of B teams in Formula 1. We’d rather not have this structure because it provides advantages to both teams – and competitive advantages, you could argue. We are not buying Force India and we would rather not have the concept of a B team.”
But yet, Wolff is no doubt seeing this as a welcome distraction from the reality that is Williams heading down the path of Mercedes B team anyway. Furthermore, in the video embedded above, William Storey also makes claims that some within Mercedes have motives not known to the public regarding the situation at Force India, re-enforcing this distraction tactic.
“We as Mercedes are interested spectators of the process,” Wolff told reporters.
“We would like to understand what the funding strategy going forward from a potential new buyer is, how it could affect the collaboration between the two teams. We aren’t there yet.”
Wolff may not like the principal of B teams in public but the statement above certainly smacks of an overt interest in the dealings of the future Force India team. He is fully aware of the reality that the sport finds itself in right now evidenced by the leaps that Sauber and Haas have made in 2018 despite seemingly low operating budgets, and certainly very low prize money allocation.
Racefans.com today published a table revealing the prize money distribution between the F1 teams for 2018. Most notably Haas and Sauber are at the bottom.
All values in £m.
|Team||Column 1||Column 2||Total||LST||CCB||Other||Total||2017 +/-||2017 position|
The income is distributed as follows: Column 1 is divided equally among all teams which have finished in the top 10 places of the constructors’ championship in two of the past three seasons. Column 2 is shared between the top 10 finishers in last year’s championship, with the champions receiving 19% of the pot and the last-placed team taking 4%.
On top of that, Ferrari receives a unique ‘Long Standing Team’ payment, four teams receive additions ‘Constructors Championship Bonus’ payments, and Red Bull and Mercedes receive further bonus payments.
The teams receive their payments in a series of 10 instalments. The final balance payment will be received in March next year.
Andrew Benson wrote in his column today that McLaren and Williams are worried that, if the model of manufacturers using B teams is allowed to perpetuate itself, independent teams will effectively no longer be able to compete. Renault say it could even make them reconsider their involvement in F1.
Renault Sport F1 boss Cyril Abiteboul told BBC Sport he was “not criticising” Haas, who he says are simply making the most of what is allowed under the F1 rules, but added: “That’s not the type of F1 we like. We are a little bit afraid that such a construction would make it impossible for anyone who is not enjoying the benefit of a master team or slave team to be competitive at their own level.
“We start to see some glimpses of that today in certain aspects of the grid or the development of the chassis or engine. We need to make sure it does not become a necessity, otherwise our model does not work and our involvement can’t be sustainable.”
Wolff says: “I understand there are questions from Cyril and others over what is the future of F1 if big teams buy smaller teams, which I completely respect. I completely share those thoughts and I don’t think it is the right way forward.
“I hope we can find a discussion so the scope of co-operation is narrowed down between teams. There are commercial arrangements that make sense, but there are downsides to it. And that is the competitive order can change.
“So we need to find a solution to how the small teams can benefit from shared infrastructure but at the same time not gain an advantage that is currently possible.”
In the meantime, a hugely remarkable team with some very talented 400+ employees, who have regularly punched well above their weight, stand to loose their jobs whilst the giants battle it out around them in a colossal game of cloak and dagger.
I thought Williams and Renault also got “other” payments, for siding with Bernie and for supplying engines??