London: Force India owner Vijay Mallya has reminded feuding factions inside his Formula One team that, even if he sees no need to bang heads together, he pays the bills and calls the shots.
A year on from his purchase of Spyker, the team he then renamed, the aviation and drinks billionaire said that talks of a rift between his senior staff had been blown out of proportion and that he was in the sport for the long haul.
“Unfortunately, in the Formula One paddock there is a lot of rumour-mongering that goes on,” he said at last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.
“Yes, there may be differences of opinion but these differences started even before I took over the team,” continued Mallya. “You know, disagreements are healthy also. They are not necessarily all negative. If there are disagreements between two members of a team, it cannot be blown out of proportion. Everybody knows I am the boss and I make the decisions.”
Force India, the first Indian-owned Formula One team, have yet to score a point this season and are unlikely to do so at Monza on Sunday in the Italian Grand Prix. They have not made the breakthrough into the second phase of qualifying that would give them a better chance of challenging for points and latterly there has been much talk of a breakdown between the technical department led by Mike Gascoyne and the management of principal Colin Kolles.
The hope is that next year will be different, with significant rule changes potentially levelling the playing field.
India is due to stage a grand prix in 2010 and by then Mallya hopes his Ferrari-powered team will be in a position to be fighting for the podium rather than running around as tail-enders.
They have made considerable progress this season, with the team far more competitive than in the past and now snapping at the heels of struggling manufacturer team Honda on the racetrack at least.
In Monaco, Germany’s Adrian Sutil could have taken an extraordinary fourth place had he not been dumped out in the closing laps by Ferrari’s world champion Kimi Raikkonen.
Ranked among the wealthiest men in the world, Mallya has attended most grands prix this season and keeps a close eye on his investment. “Team principal is a very general term,” he said of Kolles, the Romanian-born dentist who came into the sport when Midland bought the now-defunct Jordan team that then became Spyker.
“Titles don’t necessarily mean job content. Your understanding may be that a team principal is in charge of everything and has a completely free hand to do as he feels.”
“The answer is absolutely not. I am the chairman and managing director of the company and the team, so arguably I could be the team principal. Colin performs a role that I give him to perform and he’s accountable to me. He does what I tell him to do. I take the final decision.”
Mallya dismissed as “complete hogwash” suggestions that Force India were wasting precious resources on parties, image-building and marketing rather than improving performance on the racetrack.
He said the Silverstone-based team, with experienced Italian driver Giancarlo Fisichella and Sutil, were now fully funded and the technical department had “not been denied one single cent”.
Parties were paid for by Kingfisher Airlines Ltd, his carrier which is also a team sponsor, and Mallya never had any doubts about what he had let himself in for.
“I have been around (in Formula One) for 12 years,” he said. “I had no illusions. I was a sponsor at Toyota and I know how much their budget is.”
“Prior to that, I was a sponsor at Benetton, and I know what their budget was. So I’ve come into this with my eyes wide open. The question of me suddenly becoming disillusioned because I face something I haven’t anticipated is rubbish. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t anticipated what I was getting into.”