Bob Fern­ley


The vo­cif­er­ous critic of F1’s Strat­egy Group and Vi­jay Mallya’s right-hand man of­fers forth­right views on the fu­ture path the sport needs to take

The gates to the Force In­dia fac­tory are closed and there’s no one to open them. A lit­tle in­ter­com at the side re­quires you to get out of your car to speak into it. Say the magic words and you can en­ter the Dad­ford Road base.

Up­stairs in the tiny fac­tory is Bob Fern­ley’s of­fice, where Colin Kolles and, be­fore him, Ed­die Jor­dan used to sit, when this team was known by other names. Fern­ley is the right-hand man of Force In­dia team owner Vi­jay Mallya: they’ve known each other well for the past three decades. Deputy team prin­ci­pal Fern­ley looks af­ter Force In­dia’s day-to-day run­ning, while Vi­jay is ying the globe in his pri­vate plane, or sail­ing the Med.

Bob re­gards the stack of ques­tion cards be­fore him with glee. The rst one deals with a par­tic­u­larly per­ti­nent topic: the cur­rent state of the sport. He’s got plenty to say about that… Why can’t we go back to the for­mula of the late 1980s and early ’90s when cars were spec­tac­u­lar and the rac­ing was real? Matthew Lang­ton, Aus­tralia There were times in the ’80s and ’90s when the rac­ing was not so good. We have in­cred­i­ble rac­ing to­day and amaz­ing tech­nol­ogy – we should be em­brac­ing it. It’s im­por­tant that we’re at the fore­front of tech­nol­ogy; from that will come a dif­fer­ent type of rac­ing. The abil­ity of the driv­ers to master the tech­ni­cal el­e­ments of the sport to­day are dif­fer­ent to when they had to master the purely phys­i­cal side of the sport. Did you re­ally used to run a his­toric F1 team for Vi­jay in In­dia? An­thony Don­ald­son, UK It’s partly true. A long time ago, we set up a com­pany called AMCO and we were one of the rst to recog­nise that F1 cars have his­toric value. We’d buy re­dun­dant cars from F1 teams – McLaren, En­sign, Tyrrell, Wil­liams – at any one time we might have had as many as 20 F1 cars.

Teams at that time didn’t know what to do with their old cars and they took up a lot of space, so we bought them. We cre­ated the his­toric F1 mar­ket back in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Vi­jay wanted to run an F1 car in In­dia and so we ran an En­sign for him. He was a very com­pe­tent driver and he won all the tro­phies he wanted to win, af­ter about ve years of try­ing. F1R: What was the rac­ing in­fra­struc­ture like in In­dia at that time? BF: We raced at a dis­used aireld called Sholavaram and we’d get crowds of 100,000 peo­ple there. It was an in­cred­i­ble event, very ba­sic, but teams would come over from Europe to com­pete there and Vicky Chandhok [fa­ther of for­mer F1 racer Karun] raced against us. There was quite a ri­valry be­tween Vi­jay and Vicky. I was also run­ning a team in the Aurora Bri­tish F1 se­ries and then moved over to the States to run CanAm and IndyCar teams. In­ter­est­ing times – so Vi­jay and I go back 35 years. What would you do if you were Bernie? El­iz­a­beth Jones, UK [Laughs] Bernie is the most amaz­ing man and I have enor­mous re­spect for him. We have our dis­agree­ments, but they’re done in a pro­fes­sional way. I’ve never found him to be vin­dic­tive; he gives it to you straight from the hip and if you can’t cope with it, you shouldn’t be in F1. What would I do if I was Bernie? Try to em­u­late him I think [laughs] – but I’m not sure any­one has the ca­pac­ity to do that: he is unique.

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