And Then There Were 22 (Or Were There?)
Force India’s confirmation that there second seat has been filled by Adrian Sutil in preference to Jules Bianchi finalises the make up of the grid that will form up in Melbourne in 17 days time. Or does it? Rumours about the future of Luiz Razia’s drive at Marussia continue to circulate as he once again sat out testing.
It’s perhaps ironic that at a time when many fans have bemoaned the loss of Timo Glock, Heikki Kovalainen and Kamui Kobayashi from the grid in favour of fresh (and, admittedly, well funded) faces, Force India’s prodigal son has returned and edged out one of the most promising up-and-coming talents. Inevitably, money is still at the focus of the decision although Adrian Sutil also brings a wealth of experience and reliability. Jules Bianchi, on the otherhand, represented the riskier option all be it one without a criminal record. However, for some the decision wasn’t even really about Sutil or Bianchi but rather it was between Mercedes and a switch to a Ferrari powertrain in 2014.
That said, while Bianchi is being pushed by Ferrari, it’s debatable how strong Sutil’s relationship with Mercedes is. Besides, di Resta has Mercedes links himself. It seems more likely that the German’s package of backers came up with more than than Ferrari were willing to reduce the cost of their engines and ancillaries by. Therefore, the decision would seem to represent a lack of commitment to Ferrari rather than confirming a continuation of their partnership with Mercedes.
Bigger Issues at Force India
However, the dragging out of their driver announcement has tended to overshadow the bigger issues facing Force India’s owners with the Indian Authorities continue to pursue Vijay Mallya and Subrata Roy. The already grounded Kingfisher Airlines lost its international flying rights in the last few days while its domestic airport slots have been made available to other domestic airlines. Today, the competition commission cleared the sale of a majority stake in Mallya’s United Spirits to Diageo, and while the deal worth around $2 billion will provide a much needed cash injection for Mallya, it remains to be seen whether Diageo will want to continue to sponsor the Formula One team – they already support McLaren through Johnnie Walker.
Looking at the bigger picture, Sutil’s sponsorship may only have proved more attractive than a deal with Ferrari as it represented an immediate supply of cash rather than a discount further down the line. Furthermore, if the team does need to be sold, either partially or wholly, being locked in to a contract with Ferrari (or any engine supplier) could restrict the number of potential investors.
Hamilton and Sutil
Whatever, the reason for opting for Sutil, it’ll be interesting to watch him and Lewis Hamilton. Formerly close friends, the Mercedes driver was present on the night Sutil injured Eric Lux. To say that Sutil was then disappointed that Hamilton failed to testify at his trial is a serious understatement. Today, Hamilton revealed that he had prayed for Sutil’s return to Formula One and had emailed him on several occasions since the trial but, significantly, he’s yet to receive a reply. Expect an icy relationship.
No sooner do we finalise the last vacant seat than Marussia raise more questions about the future of Luiz Razia. Having missed the entire second test, due to what the Brazilian seemed to confirm as being a late sponsorship payment, Razia was pencilled in to test today on the schedules circulated around the press. With no explanation, Marussia promptly announced this morning that Max Chilton would again be at the wheel as if they had never been aware of the list being passed around.
Sources inform me that it may not, however, be a simple case of a late payment and that there is actually some disagreement about the scheduling of the payments, with Marussia now keen to get more money up front. In the potential vacuum that may be created the names of Narain Karthikeyan and Jules Bianchi have now thrown into the ether. Perhaps Bianchi will get his opportunity after all?
Credit: Sahara Force India Formula One