BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Mexican Formula One driver Sergio Perez said on Saturday he sent the Force India team he drives for into administration to save the jobs of 400 colleagues.
Perez said he was broken-hearted at having to make the claim for money owed, which put the British-based team in administration, but he insists it was not for personal gain.
Perez told reporters at the Hungarian Grand Prix that he had endured a month of emotional and mental hell and his racing had suffered because of the team’s precarious financial situation.
Force India, co-owned by embattled Indian businessman Vijay Mallya and fifth in the championship, were placed into administration by the London High Court on Friday.
“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,” said the Mexican.
“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.”
Going into administration effectively removes the immediate threat of closure and also overcomes the obstacle of shareholder resistance to a sale.
Perez’s claim for money owed — some 4 million euros, mostly from last season — was supported by engine provider Mercedes and team sponsor BWT which says it is also owed significant sums.
With up to five interested parties, a sale appears imminent, and the August break after Sunday’s grand prix gives the team breathing space to sort out its future before going racing again.
“There was a winding-up petition from another customer which would have closed down the team completely. Therefore I was asked to basically save the team, to pull the trigger and put the team into administration” said Perez.
“It has nothing to do with my outstanding amounts. The only reason I’ve done it is to save the team and for its better future,” added the driver, who is now in his fifth season with Force India.
“I am sure everyone appreciates what I’ve done and if they don’t appreciate it right now, because a couple of members of the team don’t know the full picture, they will appreciate it in a week’s time or so.”
Perez said he had struggled to keep his focus over the last month, even if the results had not betrayed the turmoil going on behind closed doors at a team that has struggled to pay its bills for some time.
“Emotionally and mentally it’s really tough. I haven’t been able to focus on my driving and being a racing driver,” he declared.
“I’m not going through a good time at the moment.”
Mallya, who has a 42.5 percent stake in the team, is fighting an attempt by India to extradite him from Britain to face charges of fraud, which he denies, with a group of Indian banks seeking to recover more than $1 billion of loans granted to his defunct Kingfisher Airlines.
He has decried a “political witchhunt” and has said he is seeking to sell assets worth about 139 billion rupees ($2.03 billion) to repay creditors.
“He’s going through a very difficult time, not just legally but also financially,” said Perez.
“I hope that whatever happens, Vijay is happy with that and gets a good benefit from that. Secondly, I hope to have a team that is more stable and can go on to the next level and be a racing team.
“We were not a racing team since the beginning of the year.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Neville Dalton