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Japan GP: Preview - Force India

NEWS STORY
06/10/2008

The FIA Formula One World Championship remains in the Far East for round 16 of the 18-round series. The next stop on the calendar will be the Japanese Grand Prix, held at the Fuji Speedway close to Japan's highest mountain, Mount Fuji.

F1 returned to Fuji for the first time in 30 years last season. The speedway brought the first Formula 1 race to Japan at the end of the 1976 season, but lost the championship to Suzuka after two events. In 2003 the circuit was closed down to accommodate a major reprofiling using a new design from Hermann Tilke. Reopened in 2005, the track now features a tight, technical section and also the longest straight of the championship at 1.5km.

The Force India Formula One Team will be looking to carry its momentum forward to Japan, where its predecessors, Spyker, scored their first point in 2007.

Singapore was a difficult weekend for the team in many respects, but can you take some positives away from the race?
Dr Vijay Mallya, chairman and managing director: I am a great optimist. In any situation there are positives and, even though you cannot gloss over problems, you really need to build on the good parts and make sure that the negatives are not repeated. Yes, we were off the pace in some sessions. Yes, we didn't get two cars to the finish, but as a team we functioned very well. Accidents can, and always will, happen but getting Fisi's car out again and then getting him to the finish, having run in third place, was an achievement. It was a tough weekend for everyone, but we all pulled together. That's the sign of a good team.

What do you expect from the team in Japan?
VM: The same I expect every time we go racing - reliability, dedication, enthusiasm and passion. I understand it's difficult, but Formula 1 is so competitive now that you can't let your game slip for one second. Of course I'd like to see points and Q2, but let's be realistic.

It's now almost exactly one year to the day that you finalised the purchase of the Spyker Formula One Team. Will this be a time for reflection?
VM: There are always times for reflection - the day I first came to the factory, the first time I saw Force India colours on the car, the first time I stepped into the garage as a team owner. Although these milestones always give us a chance to look back and think, we have to look forwards rather than backwards. We have strong foundations, but we need to build on them now. We always said this would be a tough year, but we've got to deliver now.

How has the team been received back home in India?
VM: When I announced our intention to buy the team, the TV audience figures exploded and print media went wild. I've never seen so many headlines on Formula 1 in India! Normally cricket is the only sporting event that makes the front pages, but now it's also motorsport. I'm pleased to say that the interest has been sustained. More media than ever - and I'm not just talking smaller, specialised press, but also national newspapers with a circulation of millions - are covering F1 and are really behind the team. The general public too has embraced Force India. We're here, we're competing on a world class stage and we are holding our own - every Indian can be proud that we've done that.

It's been a hectic time of the year for you personally, with international Kingfisher route launches, new products and a very busy F1 schedule. Is it difficult to juggle all the commitments?
VM: I believe that if you have good management teams in place that the day to day matters take care of themselves. We have launched new routes and this obviously takes some input from my side, but I am quite happy with how I manage my time. I think it's important for me to be there as a figurehead as my team find it motivating, but I don't want to be there looking over everyone's shoulders all the time. I have to leave them to do what they do best and take decisions when I need too. I'm in charge at the end of the day, but I don't need to make my presence felt at all times.

At this point last year the season was entering it's closing stages, but we've still got three races to go now. How do you keep the team's momentum going until the end of the championship?
Colin Kolles, team principal: It does seem like it has been a very long season! Japan was two weeks earlier in 2007 and the last race was the middle of October, so we still have some way to go. All the same, we are working to the end of the season as there are still chances there and I don't think anyone would be satisfied if we didn't get any points on board. Obviously we have to try the maximum to score points.You won't find anyone giving up just yet.

Japan last year was a very special event for the team. What are your memories of this?
CK: It was amazing how something that other teams seem to take for granted - just one point - really lifted morale. Japan was also a special place last year for another reason as we were entering the final stages of due diligence with the Mol and Mallya partnership. This secured the team for the long future, so I have very good memories of this race.

How much do you think the team has progressed since this point?
CK: We have progressed in so many different ways. Commercially, we have a real marketable product and are a viable sponsorship prospect in a huge market. The company is financially in safe waters. In terms of performance, although the package improved, we have not achieved our targets. This makes us even work harder to achieve the targets in the near future.

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