Force India, to Racing Point, to Aston Martin: A Formula One Controversy
Written by Alejandra Guajardo Lozano, Edited by Yu Xin Wang
Force India was a Formula One team and constructor, based in Silverstone, United Kingdom, with an Indian licence. This racing team was surrounded by controversies and corruption, as one of its founders was Indian businessman Vijay Mallya, who was known as the “King of Good Times” due to his extravagant lifestyle. So, what happened to this team? What led to its downfall?
The team was founded in October 2007 when Mallya and Dutch businessman Michiel Mol bought the Spyker F1 team for the sum of €88 million. Force India scored their first points in Formula One only after 29 races, with Giancarlo Fisichella at the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix. The team had another five podiums with Mexican driver Sergio Pérez. Perez finished third in the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix, 2015 Russian Grand Prix, 2016 Monaco Grand Prix, 2016 European Grand Prix, and the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. In October 2011, an Indian company called Sahara India Pariwar purchased 42.5% of Force India's shares. This led to the team changing its name to Sahara Force India.
Despite the team looking more solid and stable every year as they were finally getting podiums, points, and hoping for wins, the team was put into administration in 2018. So, where did it all go wrong?
Vijay Vittal Mallya was born on 18th December 1955 in Kolkata, India, to Indian entrepreneur Vittal Mallya and Lalitha Ramaiah. Mallya was often characterised by his luxurious lifestyle, getting the nickname “King of Good Times” because of the extravagant parties he usually hosted.
Since 2012, Mallya has been the centre of financial scandals and controversies. He was often questioned about his lavish lifestyle, and how he managed to sustain his companies. He was later accused of money laundering for about ₹90 billion (€1 billion) in loans. With 17 banks and The Enforcement Directorate of India going after him, he was officially a fugitive and an “economic offender” as he was called on the Netflix docuseries “Bad Boy Billionaires: India”.
All of this affected Force India during the 2018 Formula One season. The team was put into administration by the High Court of London, before the 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix. The legal action was initiated by a group of creditors, including their driver, Pérez. Pérez justified his action by saying that it would save the jobs of about 400 of his work colleagues.
“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,” said Pérez in an interview at the 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix.
A consortium led by Canadian entrepreneur Lawrence Stroll ended up acquiring the team's assets, approaching the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix. However, an agreement wasn’t reached in time and this caused the consortium to stay just with the assets, unable to buy the shares of the team. The team became a new legal entity called Racing Point Force India F1 Team, which was allowed to race but not allowed to keep the points obtained in the previous races. They concluded the 2018 season with 52 points.
In 2019, the team officially changed their name to BWT Racing Point F1 Team in conjunction with their sponsorship with BWT AG, an Austrian water treatment system manufacturing company. Better known as Racing Point, this Formula One team was a British team based in Silverstone, England. They made their debut at the 2019 Australian Grand Prix with drivers Lance Stroll and Sergio Pérez, and finished the season in 7th place in the Constructors’ Championship, with a total of 71 points.
In 2020, their driver pairing stayed the same. In the pre-season testings, their car, the RP20 caused controversy as it resembled the Mercedes-AMG F1 W10 EQ Power+, which won the 2019 Formula One World Championship. At the 2018 Styrian Grand Prix, a formal protest against the team was launched. Later in the season, Racing Point was fined €400,000 and had 15 constructors points deducted. However, they finished their season on a new high with 195 points and a 4th place in the Constructors’ Championship.
Ahead of the 2021 season, Lawrence Stroll bought a 16.7% stake in Aston Martin, a British manufacturer that has participated in Formula One in various forms. The team then rebranded to Aston Martin F1 Team for the 2021 season, and the name has continued until present day in 2023. The team signed drivers Lance Stroll and the four-time World Champion, Sebastian Vettel, for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. After Vettel announced his retirement in July 2022, Aston Martin signed a multi-year contract with the two-time World Champion, Fernando Alonso.
At the 2023 season opener, the Bahrain Grand Prix, Aston Martin surprised the paddock with their amazing pace, as Alonso scored a podium and stated that the car “was lovely to drive”. On the other hand, Stroll finished 6th, which was an outstanding comeback after fracturing both of his wrists due to a cycling accident.
Aston Martin started the 2023 seasonon the front foot, leaving fans wishing for more podiums and even wins. With an amazing driver pairing and a great car, they have a lot of potential and might even be competing to be at the top, after years in the midfield.