The news that Force India has established a five year technical collaboration with McLaren and Mercedes comes as no surprise, indeed both sides have been talking about it for some months now. But it is quite a significant move for several reasons.
It marks the first time that Mercedes has supplied a second team with engines. They’ve considered it many times, but never actually gone through with it. Meanwhile Ferrari has had a very nice little business going for years supplying Toro Rosso, before that Red Bull, Spyker, Prost, Sauber. And that was in the good old days when they could charge $20 million per team per season.
McLaren looks like it has realised its dream of a B team, as Prodrive was going to be. The deal is attractive to McLaren for multiple reasons; as Mallya has a lot of other businesses to attend to so he will rely on advice from McLaren, which also appears to have put one of it’s own men into F.I. as CEO. It gives McLaren a commercial foot in the door in the vast new Indian market. It gives them a key political ally in the paddock and it is a revenue generator. It also gives them extra feedback from testing, especially of the new KERS system and the new slick tyres. This is significant because teams agreed to drastically limit testing next year, so McLaren will be able to learn vital extra information from Force India’s test programme, which will make them faster too. It also gives them somewhere to place drivers, in this case Paul di Resta and it shows good faith on their part in terms of being seen to help out an independent team – they are ‘doing their bit’ to ensure the health and future well-being of a small team, which is what Max Mosley has been demanding from the manufacturers. So plenty of upsides for McLaren.
The Red Bull Technologies set up has tested the boundaries of what is acceptable in terms of customer cars and as things stand, teams using customer cars will have to gravitate quickly to making their own, hence all the rumours about Toro Rosso being for sale. Force India will continue to make their own car, but they will get the drivertrain – engine and gearbox – from McLaren and Mercedes, as well as the KERS system. As McLaren has a budget of €70 million to develop KERS, compared to Williams budget of around €2.5 million, this is a great deal for Force India. The customer car situation is up for discussion at the moment in the ongoing negotiations between FOTA and the FIA. If customer cars were to become allowable then McLaren is in position to supply them with immediate effect.
The move will play well with Mallya’s audience in India, after all McLaren has just won the world championship with Lewis Hamilton – so by any standards this looks like a smart play by Mallya.
Will it move Force India up the grid? Well it’s got to help. They had to do something fast, because Toro Rosso has been getting away from them lately and Honda will take a big step forward next year, so Force India were at risk of being left behind. The departure of team principal Colin Kolles and technical boss Mike Gascoyne has been rumoured for some time. Gascoyne is a spiky character, but his track record of getting plenty of bang for a small team’s buck was well proven.