I was quite surprised when I read Tony Teixeira’s (A1 GP boss) outburst aimed at Vijay Mallya, the Force India F1 boss. I was also quite impressed by the strong and well aimed reply Mr. Mallya sent back. Here is quick summary just in case you missed out:
Tony Teixeira to Reuters:
“It’s the wrong message. I think Vijay is trying to set something up which is a long-term plan but it’s not the right message having Force India and non-Indian drivers. I think India wants to see India with Indian drivers. And India wants to see Indian drivers winning. Karthikeyan has proven that. I don’t see Force India winning a race in F1 for the next five years.”
“I think A1 for all intents and purposes brings through the right messages into India by saying that India, although not a motor sport racing nation, can win the World Cup and can beat the rest of the world.”
Vijay Mallya in response to Tony Teixeira:
“I am amused by the comments of Mr Teixeira, promoter of the A1GP series, on how Indians should view motorsport in general and Force India’s participation in the FIA Formula One World Championship in particular. Mr Teixeira is better advised to comment on his native South Africa and his self-styled World Cup of Motorsport that is nothing more than a standard single seater series. Trying to reach out to India’s youth by encouraging participation in and the temptation of winning a title in a series that does not even begin to compare with GP2 or F1 is just promoting mediocrity amongst young Indians who aspire to be World Class. This, indeed, is a wrong message which seems to be an act of desperation given the huge and growing support for Formula One and the Force India Formula One team.”
I am totally on Mallya’s side. And reading what other bloggers have to say it looks like I am not alone. I have nothing against A1 series. If people are willing to pay for it, participate in it and someone will actually watch it, then it is all good. To Teixeira’s credit he (and earlier his partner from Dubai) did manage to start a racing series that still survives. The teams fielded several F1 wannabies, F1 test drivers, former F1 drivers (Verstappen and Karthikeyan). One of the A1 GP race winners, Nelson Piquet jr. is racing in F1 this year. But, A1 si no World Cup of motorsport and giving it this ridiculous name will not make it one. The cars may be relatively powerful, but winning an A1 GP race is in my opinion on or perhaps even below par with winning any lower tier Formula race. I would rate Macau Formula 3 race way above the whole A1 GP championship any time you ask me …
I am sure Vijay Mallya must have been tempted to put an Indian driver into the Force India F1 cockpit. He had at least 2 drivers to choose from – Karthikyean and Chandhok – and frankly, it would do him no PR harm if he decided to pick one of them. His plans are however long term. To build up a team requieres good team and experienced drivers. He did not see any Indian drivers that would match the needs of Force India so he looked elsewhere. I am not sure Sutil would be his first choice if he were not under contract. But picking Fisichella was pretty much no brainer. Fisi’s performances more than justify Mallya’s choice. Liuzzi as the 3rd driver was to me a logical choice that may come handy if Sutil continues to disapoint…
Setting up an F1 team purely on country of origin basis is a very risky venture. Mallya had nowhere further to look then to the garage next to his. He clearly did not like what he could see. And he clearly does not want to end up like Super Aguri. The size of Mallya’s pocket is definitely one big advantage he holds over Aguri Suzuki. But it is also about the long term vision that Mallya has. Suzuki seems to have only counted on Honda… It is no secret that Super Aguri was set up to keep freshly-dropped-by-Honda Takuma Sato in F1. Basically it does not matter what are the intentions behind setting up a F1 team. But if the team is to survive in the nasty and fierce environment, the set up must be practical. Sato is not exactly a bad driver to have. Mix of Aguri Suzuki, Takuma Sato and Honda power would not be the worse idea, if there was some long term plan behind it. The only plan Aguri Suzuki seemed to have was to create a Japanese F1 team and that included 2 Japanese drivers. So we had a chance to see Yuji Ide cruisng few seconds behind Sato for few races until his superlicense was taken away. Franck Montagny took over for a while until Sakon Yamamoto was shipped in. He was not as bad as Ide but he also did not set the F1 world on fire.
The driver policy changed last year and Sato was paired with long time Honda boy Anthony Davidson. The team started the season well. They signed up title sponsor (SS United) and it took only a handful of races till the 2006 Honda chassis delivered first points for the young team. Well looking back it looks like false good news only. The sponsor did not pay up, reliance on Honda continued, money dried out, debts kept piling up. The team barely made it through the winter. New deal was concluded in last minute, but in line with the tradition of Super Aguri backers, the cash never came. Somehow the team made it to Barcelona, but the signs are we may not see them again. Different rumours are circulating. Buyout by Weigl Group is on the cards, but that seems to be in trouble due early leak of the info into the media. Rumours are the leak is a product of Nick Fry, suggesting that Honda may not be eager to go with Weigl. There are suggestions that Agag/Campos duo may get involved too (see comments below this post). (There are however also reports that the Super Aguri cars are now in Honda’s Brackley factory instead of being enroute to Istanbul. That may mean also that Honda is ready to seize the assets of the team in return for the money they are owed.)
But when looking at the possible buyout options there is one thing that strikes me that returns me back to the whole idea of F1 team representing a country. Super Aguri was set up as a Japanese F1 team – Japanese owner, support from Honda, Japanese drivers and huge support from Japanese racing public. Yet there is no Japanese entity involved in talks (as far as we know). There are definitelly many Japanese companies from all sorts of industries able to support Japanese F1 team. But there seems to be no interest. I wonder how much research into the market did Aguri Suzuki do before he went on to set up the team … The whole B-team promise and bidding for empty space on the grid came only after Super Aguri already were on the F1 grid. He could not have hoped at the end of 2005 to run his team as a Honda B-team … Where did he expect the money for his Japanese F1 team to come from other than Japan (and Honda) ?
So can “national” F1 teams make it big in F1 ? Perhaps, but I hope they can’t. I want to see the best drivers in best machinery built by the best engineers regardless of their nationality. I would hate to see in the future seats in F1 cars again taken up by drivers like Yuji Ide only because their passports fit the cars better than other drivers’ skills … It does not mean I do not want Super Aguri to make it. I wish they survive, but as a proper F1 team, not as a team Japan. For that we have Mr. Teixeira and his A1 GP “World Cup of Motorsports”.
Photos: Force India, Super Aguri