I am travelling for the rest of the day, in places where Internet access on planes is still just a dream, so I am just going to do a quick round-up of the news. There are rumours about the financial health of Force India. This is no surprise, but it has to be said that it is still just rumour. Vijay Mallay and his co-owner Roy Subrata Sahara have been in deep trouble in India for more than a year (Sahara has been in jail since March last year and has been scrambling to pay a bail of $1.6 billion. The whopping size of this bail would seem to suggest that the Indian authorities see him as a series flight risk. His wife and son have both acquired citizenship in Macedonia in recent months and there have been suggestions in the Indian media that the controversial magnate might see the benefits of life in Macedonia, rather than spending years in court battles. The government in India might also prefer this option, as it would keep the bail cash and not have to bother digging any deeper into Sahara’s empire. Whatever the case Sahara, who is not a Formula 1 fan, is unlikely to play any further role in the team, although he is believed to owe it money. There was a plan to recapitalise the parent company of the team and dilute Sahara’s holding, but Mallya is himself in significant legal trouble in India, with creditors and government officials chasing around after him like the Keystone Kops trying to keep up with Owen Farrall (US readers should read Tom Brady). Running an F1 team while juggling court dates requires the skills of a plate-spinner and right now Vijay looks like a plate-spinner with a terrier clamped on one of his legs. One hopes that the stories are not true and that the money that comes from TV rights and from Sergio Perez, will be sufficient to keep the team out of trouble. The team is missing the first winter test, which is not a good sign, even if the message being broadcast is that the engineers wanted to maximum development time (a la Red Bull).
Elsewhere, Renault Sport F1 has announced a restructuring (no surprise there) after a shocking 2014. The former boss Jean-Michel Jalinier disappeared off to his potager (vegetable garden) last summer, avoiding being sent to sell Datsuns in Kyrgyzstan, and the team took on Cyril Abiteboul, who returned to the Renault mother ship after a period being in charge of Caterham F1. The new structure sees Rob White being moved into a new role that is described as using his in-depth knowledge of Renault Sport F1 to “set the strategy and road map for the acquisition, development and utilization of technical skills within the company”. The statement says that this “will always be with a close eye on our F1 project”. This sounds rather ominous.
In parallel, Jean-Paul Gousset, formerly the head of production at Renault Sport F1, has been appointed Organization Performance Officer, responsible for organizational matters, procedures and protocols, “from the small details to the large changes”. Gousset (56) is a longtime F1 engineer, who started his career on the design staff at Ligier in the 1980s before joining the Citroen rally-raid programme. He had a brief spell with the Larrousse F1 team and then moved on to Leyton House Racing and after that Team Lotus (the original), where he was head of the drawing office. He moved to Lotus Engineering when the F1 team shut down at the start of 1995 before moving to Arrows in 1997. Alas that went the way of Lotus and he moved to Prost in 1999 only to see that team close down as well. He joined Renault in 2003 and has been there ever since. In terms of engine development Naoki Tokunaga is now in charge of the Performance and Reliability Groups. Finally Rémi Taffin has been given control of all track and factory operations, including assembly and dynos, in addition to continuing to look after the track operations.
There was an unexpected announcement from Mercedes with a new partnership with the Seiko Epson Corporation in Japan, to promote its Epson brand. The company will become an Official Team Partner providing its expertise in printers, projectors, scanners and “wearable technology”, and will also be seen on the new Mercedes F1 cars, on the helmet visors and race suits of the drivers. Those with long memories will recall that Epson has long had links with Honda, notably with the old team Lotus in the 1980s, with Tyrrell and more recently with BAR Honda. It is decidedly odd that Epson should be joining Mercedes when Honda is returning to F1 with McLaren.
Williams has announced that British driver Alex Lynn will be joining the team as Development Driver. Lynn is a Red Bull Junior driver (or at least he was in 2014) but is managed by former Williams F1 driver Alexander Wurz. His primary role will be using the team’s simulation tools to help with the ongoing development of the Williams Mercedes FW37 and assisting the race engineers in setting up the car for each Grand Prix. Alex will also get behind the wheel of the FW37 for one day’s testing in Barcelona following the Spanish Grand Prix in May. He will be competing in GP2 with DAMS, alongside Pierre Gasly, which would seem to suggest that the Le Mans-based team will probably be plastered with Red Bull logos in 2015. DAMS won the title in 2014 with Jolyon Palmer, who has recently been named at Lotus F1’s test driver.