Vijay Mallya, who owns the Force India Formula One Team along with the Dutch Mol family, chose Mumbai to unveil his driver line-up for the 2008 season. Ironically, the same day, the Indian car industry took two steps forward, at the diametrically opposite end of the spectrum.
In the morning, Ratan Tata unveiled the Nano, and in the evening, Vijay Mallya revealed the drivers who would do the business on track for the Indian F1 team.
The driver line-up was decided based on the tests held in Jerez over two days, in which seven drivers took part. Giancarlo Fisichella, the ex-Renault driver, will be the lead driver, partnered by Adrian Sutil, who was actually with the same team -- Spyker-Ferrari F1. Vitantonio Liuzzi moves from the Red Bull team to become the team test driver.
Mallya was clear that the team had to focus on the work at hand. While an Indian driver would have been nice, he felt clearly that the current Indian drivers were not ready for the F1 league yet.
The current drivers were chosen solely on merit, and all three do come with an impressive track record. As the team readies to take on its first season, Mallya wanted experienced drivers who could work with the engineering teams from the off, without needing any time to settle in. That is the primary reason why there is no Indian driver in the line-up.
For those who don't already know, Giancarlo Fisichella is a 34-year old Brazilian driver who has taken part in 12 F1 seasons, registering three wins and 300 points in the process. Adrian Sutil is a 24-year old German who will start his fourth F1 season, having raced for both the Red Bull teams in the past.
2010 is set to be the year of the debut of the Indian Grand Prix. At the team line-up announcement, Mallya mentioned that the Jaypee Group has already selected the land and secured the rights for the event. No, you cannot start buying tickets just yet.
Mallya said that the team budget had gone up from the original $70 million to $120 million over the last season. The team owner also reiterated that the first season will more or less be a time for testing, while the team finds its feet.
So while better performances could be expected towards the end of the season, the initial performance would likely not be that outstanding. On the other hand, Mallya does expect the team to do better on Asian tracks. Vijay Mallya will reveal the 2008 Force India F1 car in Mumbai on February 7.
- Even as the excitement around the first Indian F1 team is building up, Spice Energy has revealed that they are in preliminary negotiations with the financially troubled Super Aguri F1 team for a stake.
- The Spice group will write off the team's $66 million debt, and pay a dollar more as a token amount. Spice is already involved with India's A1GP effort, and is reportedly intent on letting Narain Karthikeyan take a race seat, displacing Anthony Davidson.
- The other driver is Takuma Sato, who is integral to the team and can't be replaced. The Japanese team gets engines from Honda, who are not happy about the pressure to offer Karthikeyan the driver's seat.
- FIA president Max Mosley had earlier said that the team was in a bad enough situation not to be able to make the first race of 2008, so negotiations have to proceed quickly. Spice say an Indian driver will allow them a much wider Indian sponsor base. The Spice Group owns massive telecommunications and power industries.