Q and A Vijay Mallaya Last weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix marked Dr Vijay Mallya’s first race visit as a team owner, the Indian businessman having just completed his and Dutch entrepreneur Michiel Mol’s buyout of Spyker. As a Toyota sponsor, Mallya has been a well-known figure in the Formula One paddock for some time. But how does the man dubbed the ‘king of good times’ in his native India envisage his transformation to team owner - and what personal input does he expect to make to the sport?
Now that the deal is done and you have had four weeks to think about your new role, how are you planning to handle your involvement?
"Together with the Mol family I established a new joint-venture company called Orange India. The company will have five directors and I will appoint three and the Mol family two. I will be the CEO of that new outfit and will have the operational control. You can be sure that my contribution is very much hands on!"
You must already have an idea of what your personal contribution to the team, and the sport, will be…
"I am no newcomer to the sport - I have been involved in Formula One over the last ten years. But my role has definitely been upgraded and so my input will be more essential than as a mere sponsor because now I am in the driving seat of future team decisions. What can I add? Well, first of all I bring India to the F1 table. The potential of India is equal or even better than China. Secondly, out-of-the-box thinking. I have proved with all my businesses that, with an atypical approach, success is possible even in the most challenging environments. Thirdly, my relationship to Airbus Industries will help to push the aerodynamic development, and I have access to composite technology. Fourthly, people management skills. We have good people in the team but they probably have to be managed better. Money alone cannot perform - we have to create an environment for success."
So what will be your first priority?
"There has been little invested in R&D, so I want to change that. I want to increase the resources in engineering. This team has a great pedigree - so why shouldn’t it be possible to restore the past glory. I am aware that buying was the easiest part. It’s like adopting a child. When you have finally concluded the legal procedures you feel happy, but then the big work comes with the upbringing. I am one hundred percent committed to playing my part."
Former driver Eddie Irvine once said that the easiest way to become a millionaire in Formula One racing is to start as a billionaire…
"I’ll leave that notion to Eddie Irvine. The same phrase was used by Sir Richard Branson about the aviation business. But you see, my airline has been operating a little over two years and it is already the biggest private carrier on the Indian Subcontinent. What it takes is to be the exception that proves the rule."
Is the €88 million price tag on the team correct?
"Yes. Some will say it is overpriced, others that it is a bargain. It’s always what you see in it and how you want to use it that really matters at the end of the day."
It is a constructors’ team so the chassis will be built in-house. What about the engine?
"We have a contract with Ferrari until 2010."
The driver line-up is another issue of burning interest. You were seen talking to Ralf Schumacher’s manager in Shanghai. Would he be an option?
"I know Ralf well from my role as a sponsor of the Toyota team and I personally hold him in high regard. But a driver line-up is not something that should be decided by the heart but by the brain. I want drivers that can raise the standards in the team. I always get asked if we will have an Indian driver and my response is - if I can find one who is ready, yes. But only under the parameters just said. Drivers are a crucial part of the team so the driver line-up is a serious matter and not a sympathy contest."
Another thing that is eagerly awaited is the name of the team. Rumor has it that it could be called ‘Pride of India’. Have you decided on a team name yet?
"It is my vision that India is part of the name, yes. What it will be in the end is not decided yet so everybody will have to wait. The name is an integral part of the team identity. Everybody will have to be a little more patient."