The saga regarding Force India’s apparent financial plight is continuing, despite denials from the Silverstone based team.
Luis Vasconcelos, an experienced correspondent writing for Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat, now claims a young driver from Russia is at the centre of the Silverstone based team’s absence from the Jerez test.
“According to our sources,” he claimed, “the Jerez plans collapsed when Sergey Sirotkin’s promised sponsorship money did not arrive.”
The 19-year-old Sirotkin was once part of the so-called ‘Russian rescue deal’ at Sauber, another struggling midfield team.
“The contract with Sauber was annulled and Sirotkin was to become this year’s reserve driver at Force India, including participation in the winter tests and seven Friday morning practice sessions.
“When the money did not come in time, Force India withdrew entirely from Jerez,” Vasconcelos added.
Earlier Force India denied reports it is now just the latest F1 team fighting for mere survival. The Silverstone based team took on and almost beat the British grandee McLaren in 2014, but it will begin the new season by sitting out the first winter test at Jerez.
It has triggered speculation Force India, whose co-owners Vijay Mallya and Subrata Roy are suffering well-documented off-track troubles, is on the verge of insolvency.
Indeed, the highly-respected German publication Auto Motor und Sport on Thursday repeated rumours of Force India falling so behind in bills to key suppliers – such as one that provides the all-important carbon fibre – that it is the reason for the delayed debut of the VJM08.
But chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer insists the delay is more about the move from the team’s own wind tunnel to the state-of-the-art Toyota facility in Cologne.
“We want to see some of the results flowing into the car for the Barcelona test,” he said. Szafnauer said he is “90 per cent” certain Force India’s 2015 car will be fully up and running for that second test, beginning on 19 February.
He said sitting out Jerez altogether is “saving us 500,000 pounds. The engine and transmission tests, Mercedes can do for us. So we wouldn’t be learning too much,” Szafnauer insisted. And he hit back at the reports of financial doom for Force India.
“We employ 380 people and they all get their salaries on time,” Szafnauer said. “We have just presented new sponsors and if things were really bad we wouldn’t have gone to Mexico to introduce the team. “I can say ‘We are still alive’. And everything is going according to plan.”