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Small Talk with Big People


The ForceIndia Formula One Team is the new global face of an emerging superpower. Previously known as the Spyker Team and Jordan Grand Prix Team before that, it acquired its new identity last year thanks to Dr. Vijay Mallya, the first Indian ever to become the owner of a F1 team. For the 2009 season, the squad switched from Ferrari to Mercedes power and, as part of the deal, the car also has a McLaren gearbox all these allowing the team to focus on aerodynamics. Julia Sherstyuk speaks to Dr. Mallya, Chairman and Managing Director of the Force India Formula One Team, during the Singapore Grand Prix 2009.


Dr. Mallya, how do you find the event managements at the Singapore Grand Prix How is it different, apart from being the only night race, from other races on the F1 calendar?

I had the privilege of going around the track before the race and, I must tell you, the level of attention to detail was extraordinary, particularly the lighting. I was really apprehensive about the lighting, but the drivers say it's exactly like daylight. There is no impairment to visibility at all - no reflections or multiple shadows. My other concern was the possibility of a power failure, which would be disastrous for the night race, but the amount of backup power that Singapore has is really exceptional.

The Singapore Grand Prix is inevitably compared to that of Monaco: two small countries offering street circuits for F1 races, not purpose-built ones. Any comment with regards to this?

Singapore's completely extraordinary feature, which I haven't seen in any country, not even in Monaco, is the complete network of underground roads between the city's carparks! I never knew that you could drive all the way through the carparks in the downtown area, which are all integrated! While the roads are closed on top, traffic can still move underneath! In Monaco, on race days, the roads are totally closed.

While the entertainment programme in Singpapore, with all the music concerts and shows, is outstanding, which is great for spectators and visitors, I still find Monaco more fun for teams and team principals. There, you have the whole afternoon after the race to yourself, to relax and enjoy the city, which is impossible in Singapore because it is a night race.

There was some speculation about the poor quality of Singapore's street track, with bumps that spoil cars and few overtaking opportunities.

Bumps are inevitable on a street circuit, but they were flattened, and it was easier for drivers this year. A number of things were smoothened out via the newly-formed Formula One Teams Association (FOTA). The level of criticism incurred last year was due to the lack of experience. Now, people are more used to the Singapore Grand Prix, and half the problems are forgotten. But, I must say, that overall, it was an outstandingly staged event.

At the end of the day, F1 is so competitive in so many ways that people will always try to find some excuse or raise some issue that would affect their competitiveness. Last year, it was the gearbox1; this year, it was the diffuser; and only God knows what it'll be next year.

Your team is very young. How are you coping in such a highly-competitive environment that is F1?

In effect, 2009 is the first season for ForceIndia, not the second. It was only in 2008 that I inherited the Spyker team, and I could do nothing with it. This is the first year that we designed and built the ForceIndia car. I must mention and this is important that we signed with McLaren-Mercedes only in early November 2008, which was already quite late for engine selection, and our car was thus developed within a mere 120 days. We had little or no testing because we were obviously late but, nonetheless, we made it to Australia which was the first F1 race.

Then we thought we'd continue developing the car during the testing weekends, when suddenly the FIA banned in-season testing, depriving us of testing sessions during the race season, which certainly caused delays in our development. We had to use Fridays, normally reserved for practice, to look at ways to further develop the car.

But Valencia clearly showed that we had developed a rather competitive car, one of the fastest among the Formula One grid. In Spa, we had pole position, with Giancarlo Fisichella finishing second; in Monza, the fastest lap of the race was also us (Adrian Sutil).

What is unique to Singapore's Grand Prix?

It's impossible to plan anything here: there are 22 turns and they are very narrow. Well, Singapore is a lottery. Like yesterday [26 September, the qualifying race], Adrian, on his qualifying lap, was held up by none other than Rubens Barrichello, and race stewards were inquiring into the matter. Barrichello eventually received a reprimand from them for having blocked Sutil. So, you may have a fast car, but someone may slow you down and you don't make the qualification time that you need. So, this track is a bit of a game of chance. And since there are only two tracks like this in Monaco and Singapore you can't design and build a car specifically for these circuits: you bring a car for normal fast tracks. Motor racing is all about speed, and ForceIndia has the speed, which we have shown on normal tracks.  

1 Dr Mallya refers to the claim by the Red Bull Formula One Team that Mark Webber's gearbox selected two gears at once, due to an electrical surge caused by a subway train. The claim was proven to be unfounded.


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Dr Ann Tan


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