The first 40 F1 stories today from my F1 news clipping service all relate to Vijay Mallya, one way or another, which I suppose indicates what a big story the one-time hooch salesman-turned-airline magnate has become at home in recent days, not only in the financial newspapers, but now across the front pages and also in the burlesque of politics. The political parties are throwing mud, saying that the government has been protecting him.
The actual story has not much altered. Mallya and chums owe more than $1 billion to creditors, many of them publicly-owned banks. He says he is working to pay off the posse, which is in hot pursuit (so hot that there is a danger that Mr Mallya’s trousers may catch fire). We will soon know whether he is going to do that because he has been asked to present himself in India with his passport in hand in the next two weeks and if he does, then we will be able to draw some conclusions. If he doesn’t, well, I am sure his lawyers will have lots of “the dog ate my homework” and “communists ran off with the key to my jet” kind of excuses, but that probably wouldn’t be a good career move. It seems that the lawyers, at least, are being paid. I’m sure my mother told me when she was bouncing me on her knee that I ought never trust people who have a penchance for daft hairdos and pay their lawyers first, but let us give Vijay the benefit of the doubt until he fails to turn up at his appointment.
It is a bit of a rock-hard place interface situation, as the more he becomes a public issue, the more chance there is that he will be invited to prison until the bills are paid (as happened to his still-incarcerated mate Mr Subrata Roy Sahara (use the names in any order to make sure no-one gets upset). Administrators and politicians like to please (and appease) the masses and this might do that. All things considered, it sounds like a good moment for Vijay to come up with some serious cash… to dampen down the increasing fervour, and to prove that he actually has some money somewhere and is not simply dodging phone calls from helpful people at Barclaycard.
Perhaps Bernie and the Sherman McCoys could lend him some if he’s a bit short this month… Mr E seems to be in a generous mood as he is now talking about funding an engine for small teams to lease. It wasn’t clear if this was a personal project or one that his chums in private equity land will agree to fund. Somehow I don’t see it being the latter, unless Donald Mackenzie has been walking down the road to Damascus of late. This doesn’t sound like a great business plan to me, but Bernie is the gazillionaire and I’m not, so I’m sure he’s right and customers will come flocking in to buy an engine which is not likely to be competitive. We have already established that the manufacturers and big teams (apart from Red Bull) is not in the least bit interested in creating a cheap engine that is competitive. In any case, even if four teams jump aboard and paid the Bernard the asking price, it would still only pay the equivalent of the catering bill of Mercedes, leaving not a lot for the development budget and even less for profit (Exit Sherman McCoys, stage left, screaming in horror).
Elsewhere, there are some disgruntled Swiss reports about Sauber’s financial situation. The salaries are now up to date and while that does not mean all is well, it does mean that the team can concentrate on going racing. I’m a big fan of Sauber and the team has a very Swiss approach, which means it does not spend more than it has, but cash-flow is never easy at this time of year, particularly if you’ve had some advances on the TV money already.
The F1 cars have now started to arrive in Australia and before too long the teams and media will follow. Let us hope that once the racing starts, we can switch the focus away from the blustering billionaires to the pretty boys in their fast cars. The weather in Australia has been hotter than the changing room at the Pirelli calendar shoot for months, and it would be nice if that were the case in Melbourne a week from now. I note that last week in Adelaide the Clipsal 500 touring car bash turned into a chaotic mess when a massive rainstorm struck… What the hell, in 10 days we’ll be back in Europe, scrambling for Chinese and Russian visas for the weeks ahead…