How Force India were saved from extinction
The Force India team is under new ownership after being saved from administration during F1’s summer break. They will complete the season under the name Racing Point Force India, following a hastily agreed arrangement with governing body the FIA and the Formula 1 Group.
The rescuer is a consortium led by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, father of Williams driver Lance, but the deal was not without controversy. A transfer of naming rights and prize money needed unanimous agreement but was initially blocked by Mclaren, Renault and Williams because of concerns that the new entity would become, in effect, a Mercedes B team. There remain questions about the arrangement even though the team began the Belgian GP with all parties saying they had come to an agreement.
The sale and ownership transfer was complicated by a number of Indian banks which were major creditors of former owner Vijay Mallya. Stroll had intended to buy the shares of the team and carry on as before, keeping the prize money and rights. The need for the banks’ agreement meant that could not be done in the time required. Instead Stroll bought the assets and the old entity was declared defunct.
Chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer, now CEO and team principal after the departure of deputy team principal Bob Fernley, said: “Once that happened we needed a new entry into Formula 1 and to gain a new entry in a short period of time takes a lot of work.” The arrangement reached with the FIA was that the old team would be disqualified from the championship on the grounds of not competing in all the races, and the new team would start from zero points, while drivers Esteban Ocon and Perez kept the same engine and gearbox allocation.
Szafnauer initially said in Spa that the other teams had “signed a document that enables us to keep the (prize) money Sahara Force India earned in years past”. As the weekend developed it emerged it was not that simple, and a number of teams – including Haas and Mclaren – had questions about the unprecedented process by which the new team was granted an entry at a cost of €25m. There were also concerns about the fairness of the new team being allowed to keep what are known as the “column one” prizemoney payments. This is an equal amount for all the teams who have finished 10th or above in two of the previous three seasons, and which last year was more than $35m.
The three teams who initially had misgivings were given reassurances about the relationship between Stroll and Mercedes, but that remains something about which a number of senior figures are concerned. The privateer teams – and Renault – are worried that the growing trend for teams ‘buddying up’ and sharing resources, à la Ferrari/ Haas, is making their business model unsustainable.
The new team are expected to change name over the winter and there are also question marks about the driver line-up. Lance Stroll is expected to join his father’s team but to do that a settlement needs to be reached with Williams, and a decision needs to made over the future of Ocon.
STROLL HAD INTENDED TO BUY THE SHARES OF THE TEAM AND CARRY ON AS BEFORE