August 24, 2018 / 10:16 AM / 3 months ago

Motor racing - We are still Force India, says new team boss

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (Reuters) - Force India fans should continue to refer to the Formula One team by its old name despite the outfit’s rebirth as a new mid-season entry with no Indian involvement, boss Otmar Szafnauer said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1 - Hungarian Grand Prix - Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary - July 27, 2018 Force India's Sergio Perez during practice REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

The governing FIA announced on Thursday that Sahara Force India had become Racing Point Force India after an asset sale by administrators to a consortium led by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll.

The switch means the old team, that was co-owned by previous principal Vijay Mallya and India’s Sahara Group, effectively ceased to exist with the loss of all their 2018 constructor points.

The transformation will also mean a considerable financial hit through the loss of prize money.

Szafnauer told Reuters at the Belgian Grand Prix that the new team was now sanctioned by Britain’s motorsport governing body, rather than India’s, but everything else remained the same for the time being.

“The chassis name remains Force India,” he said.

“It’s the same car, same sponsors, same people, same assets that were purchased and I think continuity of the name is something the Formula One Group want so that it doesn’t confuse the fans.

“If the car looks the same, and has the same sponsors and same people and same drivers but you call it something different, that can be a bit confusing.

“So we will stay Force India until the end of the year and then we decide what to call it thereafter.”

Team names regularly change in Formula One according to title sponsorship but changing the underlying constructor name requires the approval of rivals and the governing body.

Szafnauer said the FIA had asked the team owners to add Racing Point simply to distinguish the new entry from the previous one.

“But the chassis name, which I think a lot of the journalists will still use, is Force India,” he said. “Like Williams Martini Racing. Nobody says that, they just say Williams.”

LEGAL COMPLICATIONS

Szafnauer confirmed that the new entry, fresh start and loss of points was because the administrators, appointed in July, had sold only the team’s physical assets to Stroll rather than the shareholding.

“From what I understand, if it was a share sale we wouldn’t have been a new entrant. We would have just continued. But because it was an asset sale, and not a share sale, we then had to become a new entrant,” he said.

“And once you become a new entrant, the old entrant ceases and we start from zero.”

Szafnauer said he understood the administrators’ preferred option had been a share sale, which would have ensured the team kept their points, but there had been legal complications with that in the limited time frame available.

“That could have been the banks,” he said, referring to claims against the assets of both Mallya and the Sahara Group.

A group of Indian banks are seeking to recover more than $1 billion of loans granted to Mallya’s defunct Kingfisher Airlines.

Force India were sixth in the championship prior to Belgium, with 59 points.

Williams were previously last in the standings with only four points from 12 races and Szafnauer was confident his Mercedes-powered team would soon haul themselves off the bottom despite starting with a clean slate at Spa.

“I’m pretty confident (that Force India will not be last). We still have a good car, the same drivers, a good team, I’m confident we can score some points,” he said

Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by John O'Brien

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