Sexing up Force India

It is not news to suggest that Aston Martin cannot really afford to get into Formula 1. The glamorous Britsh sports car firm, now under the control of the Italian private equity firm InvestIndustrial, controlled by financier Andrea Bonomi, believes that Aston Martin could (and should) be a rival to the likes of Ferrari and Porsche. The company produces around 3,500 cars a year (about half the total of Ferrari), but Bonomi believes that this can be increased to 7,500 by 2018, with a range of new models. In an effort to achieve this goal, Aston Martin has gone into an alliance with Mercedes-Benz, which will provide engines and expertise to help Aston expand its range of cars.
The project will obviously require a great deal of marketing, but the budget is small and while the firm would like to be in Formula 1, the best it can hope for is a relatively small technical partnership with an F1 team. There have been conversations with a number of teams in recent months but with limited cash little progress has been made. However, the sexy image that Aston enjoys, created largely by the lengthy association with the fictional British secret agent James Bond, in the spy novels of Ian Fleming, can be leveraged if other companies want to be associated with the Aston Martin name.
The word in Mexico City was that there will soon be an announcement regarding a deal that will see the Force India team rebranded as Aston Martin. This may sound rather unlikely, but it seems that a rather unique deal is being put together to achieve this goal. It stems from the $2.7 billion purchase of India’s United Spirits Ltd (USL) by the Diageo company in 2013. United Spirits was previously owned by Vijay Mallya, the owner of Force India, who was forced to sell USL after he ran into financial trouble as a result of the collapse of his disastrous Kingfisher Airlines. He negotiated a deal that resulted in Diageo taking control of USL, but he remained as chairman. However, after the deal went through, Diageo looked at the financial situation of the business and asked Mallya to stand down, because it said it had “lost confidence” in him as a result of what it claims were transactions that diverted money from USL into other Mallya companies, including Kingfisher Airlines. Mallya refused to stand down and a legal fight has begun to get him out. Ironically, as this has been developing, Diageo’s Smirnoff brand has been sponsoring Mallya’s F1 team, and enjoying the benefits of Force India’s good performances.

At the same time, the huge B2B benefits from Diageo’s Johnnie Walker sponsorship of McLaren are now lessening and the team has not been enjoying good performance and the word is that the company has now decided to finish its relationship with the Woking team, but to increase its activities in F1, in an official supplier role, and as a sponsor. The obvious choice for a partner team is Force India, but Diageo does not want to sponsor a team with the Force India name. Thus, it seems, the company is looking to kill two birds with one stone and to promote its products, while at the same time solving the dispute with Mallya. The exact details are not yet clear, but it seems to be related to a loan of $135 million that was made to Mallya’s company Watson Ltd by Standard Chartered Bank, for which Diageo acted as a guarantor, in exchange for Mallya agreeing to release USL shares. Diageo has recently agreed to pay that debt, subject to the transfer of the shares, but it seems that as part of the settlement Diageo may become involved in Mallya’s F1 team. He has been looking to find ways to refinance the team because his partner Roy Sahara is in jail and is not going to be involved in F1 any longer. But a change of name is needed in order for a deal to go ahead. Enter Aston Martin, a sexy name.
Thus, expect to see a Johnnie Walker-sponsored, Aston Martin-branded team in the future. Mallya’s interest in F1 seems to be waning, so it may be that he will take the opportunity to bow out of the sport. As to the detailed ownership and management, we will have to wait and see, but there is no reason that the team will change at operational level.

110 thoughts on “Sexing up Force India

  1. Joe,this like doubting the frog when it comes from the pond to announce the death of crocodile!But I remember reading the autobiography of James Bond,written by one McPherson somewhere in the seventies.
    Please don’t tell me it was also a ploy to hoodwink a subject of one of Her Majesty’s colonies!

  2. I was wondering what the comparison financially to Aston Martin is between sponsoring James Bond and a F1 team?

    Thanks for telling the real story behind the Aston Martin/Force India rumours.

    1. Went to cinema last night. 7 of 8 screens showing Spectre, all screens and car parks packed. Aston-Martin “DB10” front and centre in some fantastic car chases. In terms of eyes/£ I couldn’t call it but it’s hard for F1 to top that with regard to selling cars.

      1. Yep, have to agree, the product placement and the Aston in the film looked amazing. It’d work on me alright. Even the Land Rovers looked ‘sexy’.

    2. Also bear in mind that Aston Martin doesn’t pay anything to be in the James Bond films – the film studio licenses the Aston Martin name and Aston Martin get their product placed in the film, and both parties consider that to be a fair exchange with no money changing hands.

      In that context, Aston Martin is a car brand that is familiar with slightly unusual deal structures when it comes to sponsorship.

  3. Worryingly reminds me of Danny Bahar and his posturing at Lotus. I hope not. Although the news Mallya may be on his way can only be good news.

  4. Hi Joe…I highly doubt Mallya will bow out of f1 considering its doing well right now…may be Sahara will sell his stake…but its good to hear some positive news about force india.

  5. Shouldn’t you be excited, Joe ? You have always been very worried about the jobs at Force India, if finances were to dry up. Isn’t this a far more graceful outcome/conclusion for a midfield team struggling for finances ? You might not want to give credit to Mallya, but hasn’t he maneuvered this well for himself and the team ?

    1. No, I think he has been manoeuvred into this. However, I am sure that as a member of the Mallya Fan Club you will find things to praise him for.

      1. Well, he has kept the team alive and it has done alright so some praise is probably due, even if you do seem to find it hard.

      2. Haha… it doesn’t take much for the ‘acerbic’ Joe to show up…I really wonder if Mallya has fans enough to form a club ! But seriously, why do you get so so visibly bitter on matters pertaining to VJM ? The world is full of such men.

          1. If Mallya is guilty so will he (go to jail) i.e. in due course. Just to try and infuse some trust in our machinery, i’d like to remind you that his FI partner Sahara is already in jail for his own affairs . As for the European efficiency in matters of justice….Tell me about it, correct me if I am wrong…did one Bernie Charles go to jail in the bribery case …did he?

            1. I’m sorry. I don’t recall Mr Subrata Roy ever being charged with anything. He has been in jail for more than 18 months with no charges against him. The question of guilt is not the issue here. The machinery is clearly flawed.

          2. Good grief – what an ignorant comment! I’m sure its quite convenient for you to ignore it, but there’s a lot of shady business in YOUR world too…………

          3. Joe, did Vijay ever steal your cat? not a member of Mallya fan club here but honestly you have been negative towards him since day 1. You should consider revealing us, what exactly you don’t like about him? I remember years ago, you called him a liar for not revealing drivers for the upcoming season on time, a trend pretty common in F1. I will be happy to see him in bars just like his friend if found guilty of crime. Yes, the guy has a king size ego, a hyprocite, but whatever be his lifestyle. Do you think he deserves any credit for keeping FI afloat, keeping talented drivers, and moving up to midfield?

          4. I don’t know Joe. From what I can see I would suggest there are still a lot of them in Europe sitting in various houses, Commons, Lords, The Hague. Also the ex Benetton US salesman was still hanging around F1 until recently wasn’t he?

            Internationally we have slime like Murdoch still running things, he puts VM in the shade surely. I’m no fan of VM, but I’m not too smug about thinking there aren’t people like him everywhere, Europe or otherwise, and a whole host of them are calling the shots for the rest of us.

              1. Venting?
                If either of us are venting Joe, I think it would have to be you. There is no emotional attachment to the comments in my post (above), or in this response. For me it’s all matter of fact, because at the heart of it, if it comes down to facts you can’t substantiate your claim “”Your world perhaps. In Europe they are generally in jail by this point – except perhaps in Italy”

                If you don’t get my point, cool, I will make it easier for you.

                If you want to attack VM or anyone else, go right ahead. I come here for your insight and your opinions, it’s part of the deal.

                However, in your zeal, do not drag the rest of the world down with an assumed Eurocentric moral superiority. When it comes to people like VM, Europe has it’s share. They are not all Italians. They are not all in jail. Many of them hold “responsible” positions at the head of companies and in parliaments across Europe. Many of them will never see the inside of a court, justice, or retribution. Europe is no bastion of moral high ground, you know this very well, to pretend otherwise, even if it’s to attack an old foe, is folly.

                That’s my point…
                attack individuals if that is your thing, but don’t do so from some kind of Euro high ground where these things only happen in other parts of the world. It’s quicksand, you’ve got mired in it before, and you have done so again here.

                As I’ve said many times, I like your writing, I enjoy many of your opinions. Occasionally though you undermine your good work with embarrassing colonialism. Instead of digging a trench and slapping anyone who says “Hey old bean, that’s a bit rough isn’t it” it might be better to accept your poor choice of words and man up to the error.

                Like you, when I speak it is without fear or favour. As part of that though I accept a responsibility to put my hand up when I over step the mark and let my emotions cloud my responses. I think that you have done that above. Fatigue is probably the culprit for the choice of words, no-one would hold that against you. Having said that, you are a writer, words are your bread and butter, you use specific words to make specific statements.

                It would be nice for once to see you write something along the lines of “I didn’t realise that my comments were insulting to anyone other than my target, VM. I could have made my point better without sounding like Europeans are morally superior to the rest of you”. Or better than Indians, or whatever it is that you meant you made that stupid comment. Or maybe you think they are, in which case stick to your guns and keep shooting at people like me.

        1. If I understand correctly, Joe is accustomed to having F1 people give him carefully-chosen wiggle-words which may at first glance paint a less-than-accurate picture… but is not accustomed to having someone look him in the eye and flat-out lie to him… IIRC, VJM made a lasting impression by doing exactly that…

          1. Actually I get lied to quite often. But I generally don’t bother dealing with outright liars. They simply confuse maters. Most people I deal with careful mould half-truths to suit their arguments. Some are just sick and believe their own half-truths. I am not sure there is ever truth because one man’s truth is another man’s lie. Pure facts are rare.

            1. Liars, half truths, sick people…and people wonder why people are disenfranchised with F1 these days.. Depressing.

            2. Thanks for that…

              But now I’m confused… if lying to you wasn’t what did it, what did VJM do to get you PO’d at him…

              I know it was something… you were quite clear about it at the time… that much I remember… but evidently I misremember what it was… (brain damage…)

              1. I am not annoyed at him. I am also not making up what is happening in India. If people want to see this reporting as being biased then that’s their problem… Not mine. I have often said that the team does a great job on the budget that they have. But people who want to be Mallya pom-pom girls ignore this…

          1. What can I say, Joe is very predictable and highly inflammable on matters pertaining to Mallya. His passion for highlighting the wrong in the existence of one inconsequential Mallya is eminently noteworthy.

            Joe, not a word on BCE and the bribery case…now the passion goes missing?

            1. If you don’t like the bloke, go away and read Mallya Weekly, I am sure you will get the whole truth. Just stop whingeing and telling me that I am biased about Vijay. I am not, I am just reporting that is happening.

              1. It sounds like Joe may be aware of certain details pertaining to the man. It is these ‘details’ some of the posters wish Joe could divulge. Am guessing he can’t say more for fear of being accused of being libellous.

                1. No, not really. I think of him as a typical second generation rich person, who thinks that being born wealthy somehow gives you more brain cells than the rest of the world, but who ends up destroying the work of his forebears. It is a classic human take. Clogs to clogs in three generations…

                  1. In that case, I pity the man’s forebearers whose hard work is being undone it seems. Thanks for the explanation.

                  2. “I think of him as a typical second generation rich person, who thinks that being born wealthy somehow gives you more brain cells than the rest of the world”

                    Oh, you’ll love his son Sid then.

  6. Interesting. I can see this working. So in the end Diaego solves Mallya, gets a team more or less of its own, takes on the Aston Martin name as a nice banner and then as a powerfull platform for its marketing.

    And Mallya can shrink out of it without losing his face too much, everyone can forget about Sahara and be happy.

    If this means the team is secured for the future, its a good thing and something positive. It might also bring in new sponsors over time who are reluctant to get tied in with a guy in jail and one wanted for tax evasion and several other uncanny business.

    What about the Mol family, are they still involved with the team?

  7. Gotcha!
    Diageo’s Smirnoff brand has been sponsoring (is major sponsor) Mallya’s F1 team…
    but Diageo does not want to sponsor a team with the Force India name…
    cheers, Glenn

    1. Yes. You are beginning to get the picture. You need to understand that there is a time element in this as well. Things change after deals are done.

  8. Btw, while watching a FP1 re-run. I expect Tilke to ruin any circuit he touches, and he’s done it again. Ok, Peraltada needs to be safe, but that stadium section is even more Mickey Mouse than his usual standards. The esses have been removed and turned into two medium speed chicanes. And why he’s put a kink in the middle of the main straight…? I thought the changes were for safety reasons, but the barriers are so close it’s like a street circuit. I really don’t get why any of the circuit (bar Peraltada) has been changed.

    1. “…but the barriers are so close it’s like a street circuit.”
      “I really don’t get why any of the circuit (bar Peraltada) has been changed.”

      It’s not that hard to see…

      Look where the track is located. It is absolutely surrounded by urban build up.

      The barriers are so close because there is no room to move them out anywhere.

      The only thing they should have done different is leveled the stadium section in the remodel, and move the Peraltada in as much as possible to give it some run off.

      But they use the stadium section for concerts and such to generate $$$ when there are no races, so it is what it is.

        1. The stadium section was a hit…

          I’m surprised we haven’t seen that before… it’s the logical conclusion of the more compact Tilke tracks… it’s also what helps NASCAR’s tiny-ovals be such insane places, vibe-wise…

          If/when Tilke does another one, I expect we’ll see some element of that appear…

    2. It’s a balance between meeting circuit design requirements set forth by the FIA, working within limits of the property, and providing a venue that holds fans.

      The stadium section looks stunning. The podium being there was fantastic.

  9. All in all its sounds great, especially for F1 to have Aston Martin’s name associated with F1. Do you have any idea who would be the majority ( controlling ) interest in this team if it ever happens?

  10. Sorry to be a pedant, Joe, but James Bond was not associated with Aston Martins in the Ian Fleming books. Bond drove a Bentley almost exclusively, except for just one of the books in which he was given an Aston because his Bentley was being repaired. The Bond / Aston link comes only from the movies.

      1. Gosh, what a compliment. Why bother reading it, if that is the attitude? Believe me, try as I might, I would not be heartbroken to lose you as a reader…

          1. Because I post everything that is not libellous, rude, obscene, or disrespectful. Unless it is plain stupid, in which case I sometimes delete a comment to save the reader embarrassment

            1. And that is why I read this site, because whilst Joe can be rather caustic and blunt, his frank no-bulls*it approach rare in an increasingly anodyne media. I applaud Joe’s style, even if I don’t always share his opinion, or appreciate his manner 🙂

              As for my comment, it was actually meant tongue in cheek, but I do realise it didn’t come across that way, and apologise for it.

    1. Aside from a handful of die hard fans, no one has read the books.

      As far as the rest of the 8 billion people in the world are concerned, James Bond is a movie character.

      And he drives an Aston Martin.

      1. Not just die hard fans… if you were a young adolescent male when the “From Russia With Love” and “Goldfinger” movies came out, you read the books 😉

        p.s. With Goldfinger they found a movie-formula and have beat it into the ground every since… too bad… the first 3 movies were an evolving thing… since then, they’re just cut-and-paste…

    2. Thats just nitpicking! I was devasteded when JS wrote that Bond was fictional – i thought those films were documentaries!

    3. If anyone cares (doubtful), James Bond’s Bentley from the books shows up as John Steed’s car in the old Avengers TV show… which was smirk-worthy, but not as spiffy as Emma Peel in her blue Lotus Elan…

    1. Yes I agree, pity Williams already have Martini else the Bond connection could be positively inferred. (Miss Broccoli permitting)

      1. As an aside, the Williams have 007/Bond logos on them this weekend in Mexico. There is also a connection through the Jaguar C-X75 used in ‘Spectre’ built by Williams.

  11. Andrea Bonomi has a proven track record of taking over and shaping up underperforming companies so that he can sell them to larger industrial concerns for a tidy profit. His family is deeply connected with Italian & French corporate players, having somewhat ironically built the Pirelli HQ tower in Milan. His father was a successful offshore powerboat racer in the 70s and Andrea knows how the racing world works.

    Should be interesting to see if it all comes together.

  12. Hi Joe,

    Sky Sports F1 mentioned a new sponsor for McLaren (not Chandon). Did you heard anything in this instance?


      1. Let me fix that for you: “I heard that there is a LVMH brand coming but I’m not privy to any important information, so can only guess at which it may be”

          1. True. I was riled by one of Joe’s previous comments, and my reaction was puerile and unnecessary. I apologise to Joe and readers.

    1. Moët&Chandon (a LVMH brand) will be a sponsor from 2016 onwards. But David Croft mentioned that there is another deal imminent. Thought you heard anything as well…

  13. Aston Martin make fabulous road cars and have a wonderful image. They don’t need to be name checked running around the midfield of ugly F1 cars.
    Jaguar did themselves no favours, and neither have Lotus.
    A real shame.

    1. Not to forget BMW, Toyota and oops Honda (not this time, the previous disaster…)

      Speaking of which it would be fantastic to see a certain mr Ross Brawn handed the keys to this superstar team in waiting!

      Any chance of Chevy (Corvette) motors one day? Porsche, or Lambo?

    2. The marketing in value trumps their on track performance, though. Being associate with any F1 team buys you association with exotic locations, the glitz of Monaco (image an owner’s club meeting in the Principality, with the ultra VIPs entertained in and around luxury ships), the highest technical skill etc.

      Being the worst for 10 teams might seem like a terrible deal; but the spin-team positions that to be one of the elite. One of the chosen few.

  14. “his partner Roy Sahara is in jail and is not going to be involved in F1 any longer”
    BBWWAAAAHAHAHAHA, if I were in jail the last thing I would give up on is my involvement in my F1 team! Priorities priorities priorities!

    1. It is only a matter of time. Like the Bentley, things move on. Things change. James Bond is linked to Aston Martin, whether we like it or not.

  15. Hi Joe – would the money coming in from Diageo and Aston Martin be enough to boost the team’s budget so they can start to challenge the bigger teams? Or is it more about securing the team’s long-term future and establishing a platform for futher B2B deals?

    1. As I understand it, Diageo guaranteed a $130 million loan from Standard Chartered to Watson Ltd, one of the shareholders in Orange India, the holding company of Force India. The debt was not repaid, so SC asked for the money and Diageo paid it. Thus VJM owes Diageo $130 million, but they might be willing to take that in shares in a promotional vehicle called an F1 team…

      1. Ahh now I understand, thanks for clarifying!

        Well hopefully a new name/image will attract new partners for the team. The staff in the factory would probably appreciate having to only think about racing.

  16. I doubt Dr. Vijay Mallya will bow out of Formula 1, Most probably he will retain a minority share in the team and stay at his current position of Team Principal and Managing Director.

      1. Joe, doesn’t F1 have a “fit and proper” test, with regards to ownership, like the EPL does? Given his financial shenanigan, surely Mr. Mallya wouldn’t fit the criteria?

        In any case, I can’t imagine that many corporates would want him involved, as a partner or minority shareholder… I assume its a matter of time before he is politely escorted to the door…

  17. This what VJM said in the recent interview:

    BBC: Will you be involved in Formula 1? Do you want to stay in the sport?

    VJM: Absolutely, I am not going anywhere.

    1. I could say in an interview that I am as rich as Mallya, does that make it true? Actually I probably am. I have fewer debts…

  18. Joe, If Mallya is sidelined as part of this deal, do you think Dave Richards would step in? He’s already associated with Aston Martin and has previous experience of running an F1 team? Or is there someone within the team who is already doing all the work behind the scenes and can take over. I’ve made the assumption that Mallya is a figure head type of leader rather than a hands on guy.

    1. DR is not involved with Aston Martin per se. He sold his shares. VJM is too busy fighting fires in India to be more than an occasional visitor. He has very good people at operational level, hence the team’s success. They simply need money to do the job properly and to a large extent the identity of the owner is irrelevant. It is a great little team, but it could be rebranded tomorrow and it would still be a great team

  19. Is there really room for all these luxury sports cars in the world? I was, and still am, highly dubious of McLaren’s lofty ambitions but Ferrari now wishes to increase it’s output and that’s without taking into account all the others who certainly wish increase their market share. Makes you feel impoverished.

  20. What fires is he fighting in India ? The banks, haven’t (not all of them) declared him a willful defaulter. He doesn’t have much business left here, courts aren’t asking for him regularly yet.

    Isn’t it that great leaders, build and retain great teams to achieve great feats. With him having very good people at operational level means he is smart enough to know the difference between good and the not so good. The core team is still the same , that means he has found ways to retain them despite the not so positive cash flows, if they were underpaid vis-a-vis the skill they posses, some one else in the paddock would have picked them up.

    If we go by the facts, Mallya is doing something right with this FI F1 team i.e.even with limited resources. Why wouldn’t you acknowledge it ?

    Off topic, but it just surprises me to no end, that someone of you stature can let your personal biases affect your writing for someone as inconsequential as Mallya.

  21. Love it when you comment on this team and the many Mallya followers out there who had been imagining they’d been smelling lotus blossom wake up and realise it was only cow manure….

    1. Why would anybody be a Mallya follower?

      (This is not snark, it is a real question… I have no idea what the answer might be…)

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