Sahara Force India at a crossroads

This weekend two of the three Mercedes-powered Formula One teams will be at the centre of attention.

McLaren is looking to reverse a recent downswing in form that has seen Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button struggle in the last two races, while Mercedes AMG Petronas will be hoping for home glory for Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, ahead of Red Bull and Ferrari in the German Grand Prix.

In contrast, the third Mercedes-powered contender, Sahara Force India has disappeared into the shadows over the last few races.

It has been outpaced by ‘the big four’ as well as mid-field rivals Lotus, Sauber and Williams.

Meanwhile, in India, an important part of team principal Vijay Mallya’s commercial empire is in trouble. Kingfisher Airlines, once a jewel in his business crown, is fighting for survival.

There are signs that even with the additional financial input from co-owner Subrata Roy, whose Sahara Group last year took a 42.5 percent stake in the team, budget restrictions have been slowing development progress.

It has to be remembered that at the start of the year, the Force India VJM-05 was one of the fastest cars on the track. In pre-season testing, its pace was a match for McLaren and Red Bull.

More pressure

Since then other teams have clearly overtaken Force India in the development race and as the teams enter the critical mid-season phase, the pressure will become even greater. This is the time of the year when a team has to simultaneously maintain the competitiveness of their current car, while also finalising the design and development of next year’s machine.

Even teams as big as Red Bull and Ferrari have admitted that it is tough to keep the right balance of resources. When the resources are restricted, that balancing act is even harder to maintain.

It should be made clear that there isn’t any doubt about Force India’s future survival. It has a strong driver and engineering line-up, a good portfolio of sponsors (although many are from within the Mallya group) and, of course, it is supported by the pride and passion of one of the world’s most powerful nations.

It should also be remembered that it was Mallya who helped catalyse India’s passion for Formula One. It was he who saw the rapidly rising tide of interest in the sport and made the commitment to surf the wave.

Back in 2007, Mallya led a consortium with Michiel Mol to buy the moribund Spyker F1 team for €90m, renaming it Force India.

Since then Mallya has invested in the team’s engineering resources, entered a technology partnership with McLaren and just as importantly, promote the team both in India and around the world. Force India is now a global household name and Formula One an established part of the Indian sporting scene.

This weekend in Hockenheim, there is a stronger motivation than ever for Force India, who need to build on a British Grand Prix which failed to deliver after hopes were raised by fifth and seventh place finishes in Valencia.

Lack of pace

Hulkenberg’s race was compromised by a lack of pace in the wet qualifying leaving him 14th on the grid. Paul di Resta at least started in the top 10, but was out of the race early after becoming the latest crash-test target for the errant Pastor Maldonado.

While German local interest will inevitably be on Schumacher and Rosberg, or controversial 2010 Hockenheim winner Fernando Alonso, keep an eye on the two Force India drivers this weekend. Their results may be an important pointer to the team’s future prospects.

(Steve Slater is an F1commentator on STAR Sports)

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 1:25:23 AM |

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