When I saw the headline: “Mallya deserves credit”, I must admit that my first reaction was to wonder what the banks he owes money to must think of that idea, but I soon realised that it was a rah-rah story quoting Deputy Team Principal Bob Fernley, arguing that Vijay Mallya should get more recognition for the achievements of Force India in Formula 1. I have to say that I agree with that, even if Mallya is definitely not my cup of tea, with his bling-bling ways, his insufferable smugness and his ducking and weaving business tactics.
But, when all is said and done, it is Vijay who has moved Force India up the racing ladder to take fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship – and that really is some achievement. He has achieved this by hiring the right people and listening to them, buying in all the technology that can be bought and working hard on aerodynamic development, notably by striking a deal to use one of the Toyota wind tunnels in Cologne.
The theory is very simple: if you cannot outspend the big boys, you have to outsmart them. You can come up with explanations about how Williams, McLaren, Renault and so on have done a poor job, but that’s really irrelevant: Mallya’s people have done a super job. They have built a great chassis, hired good drivers, done a deal with Mercedes to use its complete power unit, transmission and ancillaries. A competitive engine and technical stability have allowed the team under COO Otmar Szafnauer to develop steadily. Andy Green’s technical team have worked wonders, while Sporting Director Andy Stevenson and chief race engineer Tom McCulloch have all played important roles. And behind them there is a team, many of whom have worked with the organisation since Jordan days, people like chief designer Ian Hall, head of aerodynamics Simon Philips, head of structures Simon Gardner, head of R&D Andrew Brown, head of mechanical engineering Dan Carpenter, head of vehicle science Jonathan Marshall and head of composite design Bruce Eddington. All of them, and many others, have played their roles well.
The team knows that it will be harder next year, but still has the attitude that it is best to focus on the job and not on the opposition and is always looking for ways to improve. Financially, it has not been easy and compromises have had to be made, but Mallya has kept the balls in the air. Despite Vijay’s troubles, which might easily damage the motivation of some of those involved, the team has kept its head down and delivered. Climbing higher up the F1 ladder will not be easy without landing manufacturer support, but as an object lesson in how to manage a team with limited resources, this is it.