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Strong track performance pays off for Force India

NEWS STORY
05/03/2013

Force India's co-owner Vijay Mallya has hardly been out of the news in recent months due to the demise of his Kingfisher Airlines company. Much has been made of his financial woes and the troubles of the team's other owner Indian conglomerate Sahara Group. However, you can't fault their commitment to F1.

According to a report in the Telegraph by Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt, Force India's latest financial statements show that its costs increased 11% to £85.1m in the year-ending 31 December 2011. F1 team spending is limited by the Resource Restriction Agreement (RRA) but this doesn't govern all areas of expenditure so there is nothing untoward about costs rising.

There is no doubt that £85.1m is a vast sum but in the money-guzzling world of F1 it is in fact quite conservative. More to the point, the owners got good value for their money and it's not often you can say that in this sport.

The 2011 accounts actually reveal the cost of the team's 2012 campaign because the bulk of development work on F1 cars is done during the year before they are introduced. The accounts show a £1.9m drop in revenue to £46.6m and although costs increased, the net loss narrowed by £1m to £25.7m thanks to an £11m tax credit. Nevertheless, this isn't why it represented good value for money.

Force India's on-track results are better than its financial performance. It finished seventh out of the 12 teams last year which netted it an estimated £35m ($53m) of prize money. This gave it one of the best value-for-money results in F1 because its budget is dwarfed by those of the sport's front runners. In contrast, last year's champions Red Bull Racing spent £176.2m in 2011 and employed 605 staff compared to just 317 at Force India.

Last year Force India spent an estimated £730,000 ($1.1m) per point scored which ranked it sixth in value for money terms. Putting this achievement into context, it was just one place behind Ferrari which spent an estimated £650,000 ($980,000) per point scored. Although Ferrari scored nearly four times as many points as Force India last year, its budget was around 3.3 times bigger which is why it is only just ranked ahead.

It is Force India's strong performance on track that convinced Sahara to invest in it. In October 2011 it paid $100m for a 50% stake in the team which it now jointly owns with Mallya. Kingfisher has estimated debts of £1.7bn ($2.5bn) and last month a criminal complaint was filed against Mallya in India over non-payment of income tax contributions for its employees.

The airline has been grounded since October when staff refused to fly having not been paid since March. It looks unlikely that it will take off again as last month India's ministry of civil aviation withdrew Kingfisher's international flying rights and domestic slots.

Storm clouds have also gathered around Sahara. The Securities and Exchange Board of India recently froze more than 100 bank accounts of two of its companies after claiming that the group had failed to repay an estimated 30m investors a total of £2bn ($3bn) which it raised in 2008.

Mallya received a boost last week when India's regulator cleared the sale of a 53.4% stake in his liquor business United Spirits which owns Force India sponsor Whyte & Mackay Scotch whiskey. FTSE 100 drinks giant Diageo paid £1.3bn for the stake and although it is uncertain whether Whyte & Mackay will remain a sponsor of Force India the team has managed to insulate itself somewhat. This is because in 2011 the amount Whyte & Mackay spent on sponsorship of Force India reduced by £3.2m to £620,000. Kingfisher's contribution plummeted by £5.5m to £485,000.

The upshot is that if Kingfisher remains grounded and Whyte & Mackay's sponsorship of Force India comes to an end, the most that the team will lose is £1.1m. Again, this may sound like a vast sum but in fact it covers just 1.3% of its total costs. Force India's owners may be flying through turbulence but at least the road ahead looks clear for the team.

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