With just three weeks until the circus congregates in Australia for the 2013 opener, Force India is still yet to name Paul di Resta’s teammate.
To that end, Adrian Sutil – the team’s long-time German driver who sat out 2012 after his assault conviction – is testing the new VJM06 in Barcelona on Thursday. But also hot in the running is Jules Bianchi, the rookie Frenchman who was reserve driver last season and is strongly supported by Ferrari, and handled by Felipe Massa’s manager Nicolas Todt.
Indeed, some see Sutil versus Bianchi as less about a head-to-head talent ‘shootout’, and more a question of which one is better backed by a supplier of expensive turbo V6s. Ferrari looks set to lose its engine customer Toro Rosso to Renault in 2014, and so Force India – currently powered by Mercedes – would be a good replacement for the Maranello marque.
“First of all (with engine customers) we can test more engines and having no tests during the season we can collect a much wider database,” said engine boss Luca Marmorini. “In this sense it’s very good having customer teams.”
Ferrari driver ‘academy’ star Bianchi will drive the 2013 Force India on Friday, arming the Silverstone based team’s bosses with the information for a decision.
Asked on Thursday if that news will come next week, deputy team boss Bob Fernley said: “It would be good.
“We’ll try and get all the information we’ve been collecting to the shareholders this weekend and then it’s their decision,” he told British Sky television.
Fernley said Force India will treat Sutil and Bianchi fairly in Barcelona, and confirmed that “obviously one of them” will be di Resta’s teammate in 2013.
Boss and co-owner Vijay Mallya’s financial problems do not affect Force India, deputy team principal Bob Fernley insists.
This week, it emerged that lenders to Mallya’s failing airline Kingfisher are set to sell the billionaire’s collateral assets as they recall the loans.
And the very latest reports are that Force India’s title sponsor Subrata Roy, of the Indian giant Sahara, has had 100 of his and the conglomerate’s bank accounts frozen by the Securities and Exchange Board of India over failing to repay investors.
Referring on Thursday to team supremo Mallya’s troubles, Force India’s Bob Fernley said: “There is a disconnect between what happens in Vijay’s business and what Vijay is doing on the F1 team.
“Whether Kingfisher or United Spirits is doing well or not doesn’t affect the team, and it’s very difficult for us to get that message across, although we have been trying for several years,” he is quoted by the Guardian newspaper.
Bob Fernley, the day-to-day team boss at Force India, has backed Ferrari’s decision to deliberately penalise Felipe Massa in Austin.
The Italian team was roundly criticised for tampering with Brazilian Massa’s long-life gearbox for no other reason than to incur a five-place penalty that switched title-fighting teammate Fernando Alonso to the ‘clean’ side of the grid.
Ferrari’s immediate competitors, Red Bull and McLaren, said they wouldn’t have made a similar decision. But Fernley told PA Sport it is nonsense to write of Ferrari’s tactic as unsporting.
“At the end of the day the regulations are what they are, Ferrari took them to the limit, and that’s what we do in Formula One,” he said. “I would absolutely have done the same. We’re not here to try to make friends, we’re here to win.”
Many commentators in the media also slammed Ferrari’s tactic, but former driver Marc Surer said the Maranello team did the right thing.
“If you look at the (race) start, it was absolutely right,” he told German television Sky.
The Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport added: “With a world title at stake, everyone would have done Ferrari’s trick.”
Bob Fernley has played down his boss Vijay Mallya’s latest problems.
Already grappling with his ailing airline Kingfisher, Force India chief Mallya now faces arrest in his native India, two weeks ahead of the team’s all-important home race in the country. The non-bailable arrest warrant was issued by a Hyderabad court last week over bounced cheques relating to the cash-strapped and grounded Kingfisher. But deputy team boss Fernley has played down his boss’s problems.
“It will be resolved and I expect Vijay to be in India,” he is quoted by the south Asian nwes agency ANI. “It’s not a big amount of money so he would have no idea a cheque would have been issued. For me, there are no issues with the team. It is just one thing that has gone wrong and I have to deal with it,” he added.