The news broke ahead of the Hungarian GP weekend that Force India have placed into administration, news which sent ripples through the F1 world and caused no small amount of confusion among many.
It’s no secret that Sauber is my favourite F1 team, closely followed by Scuderia Toro Rosso – both hold a special place in my affection. But when it comes to teams for which I hold a genuine respect and admiration, Force India stand clear above all others on the grid today.
The little team that could – and very much still can, has not been short of sponsors of late. Boasting one of the best-covered machines in the field and one of an ever-shrinking group that can boast a genuine title sponsor – combined with recent performances in the constructor’s championship there’d been a quiet assumption on the part of many that the team was turning a corner. Perhaps ready in the near future for works backing, which really remains the next logical step for a team still in an ascendancy after a shaky start to the season – it had been assumed (not unreasonably) that the days of surviving on advance payments from the FIA and living month to month were about to be behind them – if they weren’t already.
So, as news broke last week that the team was undergoing acute financial problems I was more than a little surprised. Like some others, I assumed that this would be the same sort of news that has plagued the team in the past but eventually blows over. But not this time.
As more information came to light – it seemed that Sergio Perez was among the leaders of the petition to put the team into administration (alongside title sponsor BWT and Mercedes-Benz, who appear to have refused to accept reduced payment for their power units in order to secure the administration order) which was perhaps the biggest surprise of all.
Force India is Checo’s home – the team at which I believe he has done his best work. The team which always had a place in the garage for him. The team that seems to genuinely value his contributions. While the move to call in administrators lacked explanation, it seemed this move was something to scorn – a shameful and greedy betrayal of a team and a workforce that has stood by him in all circumstances, but as with everything else in this tale all was not as it appears.
Now, I will refrain from commenting further on the curious question of how a team which seems to be taking a lot of money in has found itself owing sums in the millions – owing about 4 million to Sergio Perez alone – suffice it to say that something about this odd state of affairs is the driving force behind this move.
Force India’s loyal son has not deserted his family, he is fighting to save it.
“I love Vijay. My heart is really broken because I know this is not ideal in the short term for him, but the big picture is really different, The bottom line of this is that we do this or the team would have gone bust. That’s what I get from the lawyers and members of the team.” – Sergio Perez, speaking to Reuters
The move, seemingly, pre-empted a far more serious winding-up petition from another creditor who seemingly lacked faith in ever being repaid, even though funds recovered by administrators and was poised to have the team liquidated. Perez’s move has, for the moment at least, halted this move.
“There was a winding-up petition from another customer which would have closed down the team completely. Therefore I was asked to basically save the team, to pull the trigger and put the team into administration.
It has nothing to do with my outstanding amounts. The only reason I’ve done it is to save the team and for its better future,
I am sure everyone appreciates what I’ve done and if they don’t appreciate it right now, because a couple of members of the team don’t know the full picture, they will appreciate it in a week’s time or so.”
– Sergio Perez, speaking to Reuters
The move also serves another purpose, believed to be overcoming some shareholder resistance to a sale of the team to one of the five confirmed interested parties. UK energy drink company, Rich Energy – have long staked a claim to be the most serious buyer while seemingly being entirely unknown. Publishing to their official Twitter a photograph of a supposed sponsorship agreement, it seems Rich Energy had tabled a 30 million cash injection – it is unclear if the proposal included an exchange of equity in the team.
The Rich Energy deal still fell short of their claimed takeover bid and the whole debacle has drawn skepticism and ire from many a long time F1 fan who have heard it all before. Such a buyout would ultimately have doomed the team to slow collapse and I do find myself wondering if this is also a factor behind Perez’s move.
Of the five parties in the race to take on the team as a going concern – under the right conditions and price, of course – it is, for me, Lance Stroll’s father, Lawrence Stroll who represents the most likely and most credible buyer.
A self-made billionaire, this is someone with the business acumen and wealth to actually get the team back on track and if having his badger eyebrowed son in one of the car’s in perpetuity is the price we must pay for that, I think we’d all agree it was one worth paying. Rumoured to be rebranding the team as Stroll Racing Group, this move may even be sufficient to keep Sergio in the pink car next season amid rumours of a move to Haas which, admittedly, makes insanely good sense for all sides.
What has become clear in the last 48 hours is that this is an unconventional move, but one all fans of the sport and of the team itself should be pleased to see being taken. Drastic times call for drastic measures but this may just be the surgical solution the doctor ordered.