Rise and fall of Vijay Mallya's Force India F1 Team

Mallya bought the ailing Spyker F1 Team for about 90 million Euros in late 2007, rebranded it Force India F1 Team and entered the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship. This was in partnership with Spyker’s F1 Director Michiel Mol.
Last Updated 22 February 2019, 09:49 IST

The 2019 season will be the first in 11 years to not have the Force India F1 Team on the starting grid.

Previous owner Vijay Mallya is in deep trouble over unreturned loans in India and the team went into administration in mid-2018. The team was eventually sold to a group of investors led by Lawrence Stroll, father of Formula 1 driver Lance. The team entered as Racing Point F1 Team for 2019, with Lance and Mexican Sergio Perez completing the driver line-up.

Lance Stroll (L) and Sergio Perez. Picture credit: Racing Point/ Force India
Lance Stroll (L) and Sergio Perez. Picture credit: Racing Point/ Force India

Mallya bought the ailing Spyker F1 Team for about 90 million Euros in late 2007, rebranded it Force India F1 Team and entered the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship. This was in partnership with Spyker’s F1 Director Michiel Mol.

There was excitement because an Indian had never owned an F1 team before. Moreover, there was hope that Force India would give a chance to Narain Karthikeyan, who had just one season with the Jordan Team in 2005, and Karun Chandhok. In the end, neither got a drive with Force India.

The team has had a history of changing hands. Jordan team owner Eddie Jordan had sold the team to the Midland Group in 2005, though they continued to compete under the Jordan name. For the 2006 season, the team competed as Midland F1 Racing before being sold to Dutch sportscar manufacturer Spyker. It was Spyker F1 Team for the 2007 season before being sold to Mallya.

Their 2008 car was the VJM01 and the last was the VJM11.

There was a bit of skepticism about how things would work out. But to Force India’s credit, the team grew from strength to strength and became formidable midfield competitors. As a constructor, they have beaten the likes of Williams F1 Team, McLaren and Renault as well. They finished fourth among the constructors in the 2016 and ’17 seasons.

Drivers who have turned out for the team include Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, German Adrian Sutil, Mexican Sergio Perez, Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi, Frenchman Esteban Ocon and Briton Paul di Resta.

Having limited budgets, they had to make the maximum use of the money spent. They did not have the budgets of far bigger teams like Scuderia Ferrari. They were known for their efficient operations and this fact was recognised and appreciated by the other teams as well. Their way of working was to start with a simple car and upgrade as the season went along.

In the 2008 season, they started out with Sutil (retained from the erstwhile Spyker team) and veteran Fisichella. It was a tough season and the team scored no points. There was a chance for Sutil to score points in a wet Monaco Grand Prix, but Ferrrari’s Kimi Raikkonen rammed into the back of the former’s car and Sutil crashed out.

Things began to look up in 2009 and they also switched from Ferrari to Mercedes engines. One of the best moments they have ever had was when Fisichella clinched pole position in the Belgian Grand Prix. The Italian eventually finished second behind Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

Fisichella moved to Ferrari towards the end of the 2009 season and Liuzzi became the second driver. The team finished ninth out of 10 among the constructors. Sutil and Liuzzi finished 17th and 22nd respectively.

Sutil and Liuzzi continued to be the drivers for the 2010 season and there were some heartening results. Sutil brought up two fifth places, while Liuzzi bagged one sixth place. Force India finished seventh among the constructors, with Sutil and Liuzzi finishing 11th and 15th among the drivers respectively.

In the 2011 season, Liuzzi made way for Briton Paul di Resta and Force India finished in the sixth place among the constructors.

For the 2012 season, there was a change in the driver line-up and German Nico Hulkenberg joined di Resta. This was when Sahara picked up a stake in the team. A fourth place was the highlight for di Resta, while Hulkenberg scored two fifth places and a fourth. Hulkenberg was 11th and di Resta was 14th among the drivers at the end of the season, with the team finishing seventh.

Sutil was back in Force India for the 2013 season and partnered di Resta. The team finished sixth among the constructors and di Resta and Sutil finished 12th and 13th respectively.

The year 2014 was when sweeping new technical regulations were brought in, including the 1.6 litre turbocharged engine from the 2.4 litre naturally aspirated ones till the previous season. Force India seemed to have done a pretty good job with the car. It was an all-new driver line-up with Mexican Sergio Perez and Hulkenberg returning. The results were there to see and Perez was up in third place in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Hulkenberg scored several fifth and sixth places and this saw the team finish sixth once again on the constructor table. Hulkenberg and Perez finished ninth and 10th respectively in the championship for drivers.

The start of the 2015 season could have gone better but the results were far better in the second half of the season that saw them using an upgraded car. Perez finished third in Russia and sixth and fifth places were common for the two drivers. The end of the season saw Force India taking fifth place on the constructor table. Perez and Hulkenberg finished ninth and 10th among the drivers.

With an unchanged driver line-up for 2016, Perez again scored two third places with Hulkenberg getting some encouraging results as well. At the end of the season, Force India had proved they were an improving team as they finished fourth on the constructor list. Perez and Hulkenberg finished seventh and ninth respectively.

In 2017, Hulkenberg made way for Frenchman Esteban Ocon. Perez stayed on. The team finished fourth again among the constructors, beating the likes of the seasoned Williams, Renault and McLaren. Perez and Ocon finished seventh and eighth in the drivers’ championship.

Last year sounded the death knell for the team. With Mallya deep in trouble over non-repayment of loans to Indian banks, the team went into administration. A consortium of businessmen bought the assets of the team and Force India had ‘Racing Point’ added to the name. As a result of this, the old Force India was excluded from the championship.

This season, the erstwhile Force India have entered as Racing Point F1 team.

Among those who lost out in all this is a young racer Jehan Daruvala from Mumbai. He was the winner of the Force India One in a Billion talent hunt in 2011 and supported by them for racing in Europe. Sadly, the change of owners has hit his career progress chances.

(Published 22 February 2019, 08:34 IST)

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