BENGALURU: Vijay Mallya's announcement on Thursday that he had resigned as chairman of United Spirits Limited, and also his new role as Chief Mentor of Royal Challengers Bangalore, has set tongues wagging about his Sahara Force India Formula 1 team.
Though there were speculations he might lose control of Force India, however as of now, there seems to be little logic in that in light of what has happened at USL. RCB is under Royal Challenge, a USL brand. Force India is a separate entity, and the team is controlled by Watson Ltd.
Mallya and Subrata Roy’s Sahara own 42.5 per cent each, while Michiel Mol owns the rest. Maybe, news that Smirnoff's (a Diageo company) five-season sponsorship deal India triggered the speculation.
Maybe, talk about Force India being taken over by Aston Martin and Johnnie Walker (late last year) triggered speculation. However, nothing concrete has emerged and unless Force India announces anything, things will remain speculation. There is little basis for saying that Force India could leave Mallya's hands because of the development in USL and RCB.
Also, there is very little going around in the Indian motorsport circle about Force India. Mallya is the chairman of the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI).
In fact, Force India's US $15 million a year deal with Smirnoff has only strengthened the Silverstone-based team financially. This was apparently part of the deal with Diageo.
Former FMSCI president Vicky Chandhok said, “The sponsorship from Smirnoff is a good thing and we will continue to have the Indian flag flying high in Formula 1 due to Force India.”
Started in 2008 after the Spyker team was bought by Mallya, Force India have steadily moved up the grid and are becoming increasingly competitive.
Just in their second season, Giancarlo Fisichella gave the team their maiden pole position at the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix. Those were early signs that Force India was not also-rans.
They have, on several occasions, given the bigger teams a run for their money. So, revenue is coming in and with the team doing well, it only makes sense for a them to find sponsor.
Obviously, Diageo sees that and it can't really be interpreted as attempts to take control of the stable. Officials from USL or Kingfisher did not want to comment on the issue.