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 aireld 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.