By Alan Baldwin
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Force India are in talks with Aston Martin and Scotch whisky brand Johnnie Walker about a deal that would see the Formula One team change its name and look, co-owner Vijay Mallya said on Friday.
“Yes, there are discussions on with Aston Martin. Yes, there is excitement on both sides,” he told Reuters at the Mexican Grand Prix.
“But it still has to go through due process before we agree and shake hands on a concept, whatever that concept may be … we have not exchanged anything in terms of an outline or draft contracts.
“This is a sort of tri-partite discussion that is going on which involves Diageo with its Johnnie Walker brand as well.”
Mallya, whose co-owner Subrata Roy of the Sahara Group has been in jail in India for more than a year, said that if the Mercedes-powered team did change name, it would still remain Indian registered.
“I named the team Force India only to give India and all of the motorsport fans in my country pride of place on a Formula One grid,” continued the liquor baron, who also has business troubles following the collapse of his Kingfisher airline.
“But they’ve enjoyed that for eight years and now they know this team is synonymous and will still be an entry from India flying the Indian flag.
“So what name we run under is not as critically important as it was for the first three or four years.”
Mallya bought the Spyker team, previously Midland and Jordan, and renamed it Force India for the 2008 season as the first Indian outfit in Formula One.
The team have struggled financially and this month sought a $10 million advance on their 2016 championship payments, the same amount they were granted before the start of this season.
Loss-making Aston Martin, famous as the marque of choice for fictional British secret agent James Bond, is five percent owned by Mercedes — who provide Force India’s engines.
Johnnie Walker are owned by Diageo, who are majority shareholders in Mallya’s United Spirits Limited and several of their liquor brands are already visible on the Force India cars.
The whisky brand has partnered former champions McLaren, who are enduring their worst season and are ninth of the 10 teams, for 10 years but is also a global sponsor of Formula One.
“So Aston Martin, a premier British marque, Johnnie Walker, premium Scotch,” said Mallya. “That sort of premium-ness element forms the package.”
Asked when a deal might be done, with reports already of a likely blue and gold livery for the rebranded cars, Mallya said he did not know.
“I can say that discussions have progressed substantially since (Silverstone),” he said. Aston Martin Chief Executive Andy Palmer attended that race in July as a guest of Force India.
“Obviously if something is going to happen, it should happen before the start of next season because then one would have to think about the livery, the uniforms, team kit and so many other things.”
Palmer told Reuters at the time that the chances of Aston Martin returning to Formula One for the first time since 1960 were “improbable”.
“Everybody knows Aston Martin. I have a job to do in terms of getting us back into the conversation amongst people that cross-shop sportscars, be it McLaren, be it Ferrari or Porsche. I need to be in that conversation,” he said then.
“But to get into Formula One, that’s serious money that I don’t have.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)