• Team principal Vijay Mallya’s airline business hits turbulence
• Driver disappointed he is unable to move F1 teams in 2013
Paul di Resta had to fend off questions about the survival of his Force India employers before the Indian Grand Prix after the team principal, Vijay Mallya, lost his billionaire status.
Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines business is reportedly £1.5bn in debt and has had its licence suspended. Staff have not been paid for seven months – although on Thursday the management agreed to pay four months’ salary by the end of December and the remainder by March – and there are rumours that protests will take place at the Buddh International Circuit on Sunday.
When Di Resta was asked whether he was worried about the future of Force India, the Briton said: “It’s none of my business. As far as I’m concerned there’s a Formula One division which is totally separate. I’m employed to race a car. I’m a racing driver. This is something I have no control over. The team is going along and everything seems normal.”
Asked whether he had a contract for next year, he looked doubtful and said: “It’s the team’s policy not to discuss contracts.”
It has been a difficult few weeks for Di Resta, Britain’s third Formula One driver, who has been tipped as one of the drivers of the future but has missed out on a big-money move to one of the top teams.
He was linked with Ferrari but the Italian team have opted to keep weary faith with Felipe Massa as Fernando Alonso’s team-mate.
A move to McLaren, to replace Lewis Hamilton, stalled when they signed Sergio Pérez. Di Resta’s team-mate, Nico Hülkenberg, whom he has often bettered this season, is moving to the faster Sauber car next year.
“It’s always a disappointment,” Di Resta said. “I’ve always said I want to be in a car that’s winning races and winning championships.
“The team would not have held me back. For whatever reasons it’s not happened. But this team is still growing and hopefully we will be successful. I am definitely ready [for a move to a big team]. I feel the consistency is there. But I’ve still got time. I’m 26.”
Force India’s deputy team principal, Bob Fernley, did his best to separate the speculation about the team from problems faced by Mallya. “You have to have huge sympathy for the employees of Kingfisher Airlines – huge sympathy,” he said.
“But it’s a public company. Vijay is one of the shareholders. Obviously he’s the face of Kingfisher and the chairman, so it stops with him. But in terms of where they’ve got to go it’s a shareholder process. It’s not just one person dictating it.
“Kingfisher and Force India are two separate entities. Vijay is head of a number of successful companies. We’ve had doom and gloom for five years but we’re still here and we’re still competing and each year we improve.
“It’s business as usual. Our focus is delivering a good result for the fans of India this weekend. We’ve got a sport that we want to grow in India.”
The larger-than-life Mallya learned on Thursday that he was a billionaire no more – his fortune was valued at .1bn (£680m) last year but is now valued at 0m.