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Force India: A Formula 1 team worth every penny

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Force India: Making the most of what they have

The car is ready, but is the team?

The 2015 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix is just days away, and all the teams are getting ready to once again fight for the ultimate glory. This year again, Force India will take to the tracks carrying the hopes of a whole nation. But, there have been some reports that the team is facing some serious financial troubles and issues. And many believe that the team might not make the trip to the season opener, such their worries are. This will surely have repercussions, as, then Force India’s chances of breaking into the top five (and extra prize) for the first time, will take a huge jolt. Not to forget, the effects this might have on the team members, drivers and sponsors, and also the future prospectw of the team. And, as the team’s relatively short history in the sport has been nothing but remarkable; this will be a huge shame for everyone.  

As since its inception, the sole Indian outfit in the sport has surprised everyone with their ability over the span of seven years. And the whole paddock is expecting the team to once again have a very competitive year in the midfield of the sport. However, the journey hasn’t been easy; as the team; like others in F1, has had to overcome many obstacles in order achieve a very competent midfield position.

Taking over from the ruins and progressing up the grid:

When Vijay Mallya took over Spyker, then an outfit at the lower of the bargain in F1, at the end of the 2007 season, no one could have predicted that by 2009 the team would be challenging for championship-points. Of course, a switch to Mercedes power (in 2009) and the subsequent technical collaboration deal with McLaren (which ended a few years back) did act as a catalyst in the progress. But, one of the key elements, which Force India incorporated successfully, was the fact that the team was always making the most out of their budget and package, every single season. And the byproduct of it has been some fine results throughout the years for the Indian team, and who can forget Giancarlo Fisichella’s classic pole and second place at the 2009 Belgium Grand Prix.

If you see the stats, the team has never finished lower than 7th in the championship since 2010. In fact, in the last 5 years, the team has consolidated itself to the 6th or 7th position in the standings. And talking about race to race form, the boys from Force India have always regularly featured amongst the point scorers.

Of course, some of the success should also go into the fact that a series of combination has gone right for the team. As, right from having supportive owners and a good technical workforce back in the United Kingdom, the team has made the most of whatever they have had on the plate. Besides, like winning races and championships in F1 is difficult, breaking into the midfield year-on-year is also a huge challenge. But Force India, in the span of a few years, and with a very modest budget, has done more than an exceptional job to consolidate their position in the table. But, lately, for the team, in terms of finance, not everything for the team has been ‘la vie en rose’.

Fisichella celebrating his second place at Belgium with team owner Mallya

The era of Formula 1 where money is the worst rival of them all:

Money and results in F1 go hand in hand, and there is a direct connection between the two. All the teams are always pernickety about controlling their cash-flows, and living hand-to-mouth has been the way forward for most of them. And, when you are not Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari; most of the times the financial department calls the shots on few things in your team. Force India is also a team which does not have the luxury of completely spending their way to glory. And, like some rivals (Lotus and Sauber), even they faced a very difficult time financially last year, and were very vocal about their diminishing financial status.

A lot of that can be blamed on the sport’s recent switch to the V6-Turbos, which has resulted in significant cost rises for all. And this is where the already feeble fee structure of Formula 1 started to crumble, and sucked up Caterham and near fatally-wounded Marussia last year. In fact, in a very understandable knee-jerk reaction, most of the suppliers to the F1 teams are now requesting instant payment rather than credit notes from the paddock. That, again in turn, will, and currently is, affecting Force India’s this season’s cash-flow. And due to that, Force India has had to secure advance payments and prize money from Bernie Ecclestone so that they can effectively balance their books with their cash flow and stay afloat this year. 

Budget management

The setback because of the extra engine bills may have hurt the team, but efficient usage of funds in the past has allowed them to flourish in the right way. However, hopefully this mini disaster, which can easily turn into a catastrophic one, will not dent the future chances of the team. Bedsides, even with a very modest budget, and with so much backdoor-legal issues (with both, Mallya and the current co-owners Sahara group), the team has always rallied around to yield positive results. In fact, with a budget of close to 150 million USD approximately last season, Force India was still consistently in the hunt to tackle down McLaren (a team which has twice the amount of Force India’s operating budget) for the 5th place in the championship. But, that was last year and this is now, and not being financially sound can hurt a team big time. As, if you do not have the cash, it doesn’t matter whether you have a good package or not, as making it do the grid to race becomes next to impossible then.

The issues with lack of cash (if any) are a problem which the team cannot ignore and cannot hope to overcome very quickly. And, a push to the top five might help the team out. However, that is easier said than done, as the team has had a very difficult pre-season testing thanks to their 2015 car getting a late start from the factory. Of course, many observers did put the blame on lack of funds, which was true at some levels, but a more plausible reason was the fact that the team had changed its wind tunnel this winter. And, yes, who can forget the issue with the suppliers.

Once again this season, making the most of what they have, will be the key

Although the team is insisting that they will feature in Australia, and if they do not, then it will be a huge shame for the squad and also for the sport. Their new car, 2015 VJM 08, did not feature much in pre-season testing due to its non-availability, but it did show good consistency and reliability when it did show up in Spain for the last few days. 

Also, the car did look decent enough pace wise to suggest that Force India has once again put together a good package for this year amidst all the commotion. And this is very encouraging. Besides, they have two good and very quick drivers in the folds, and in terms of power units, they have the best of the lot in a Mercedes one. Hence, if Force India keeps on continuing to do what they do the best; i.e. making the best of what they have, then a top 5 (or at least another back-to-back top 6) in the table would not be a far-fetched result. Also, because of McLaren’s possible fundamental troubles with the Honda package, this season might ‘the’ year of opportunity for the team, which they have been waiting for.

However, remember that, they have to make it to the grid first in order to, again, as ever, punch above their weight.


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