Force India dismisses takeover talk, Assen lines up return of Dutch GP

Force India has rejected claims from British energy drinks company Rich Energy that it is close to finalising a deal to acquire the Formula One motor-racing team, while Assen has emerged as a front-runner to return a grand prix to the Netherlands.

The Richmond & Twickenham Times newspaper last week reported that talks between the team and the Richmond-based company were in the “very final stages”, while national newspaper the Daily Mail last month said that the deal would be worth about £200m (€227m/$279m).

Rich Energy chief executive William Storey had told the Times: “Formula One makes a lot of sense to support international expansion and motor racing is the sweet spot for our marketing function. As a platform, it’s the pinnacle of motor sport and that’s really where we want to be. To take on Red Bull in Formula One creates a perfect narrative for what we’re doing with our brand.”

However, Force India’s deputy team principal Bob Fernley has dismissed such suggestions, while admitting that talks had taken place. He told the Motorsport.com website: “It’s one of those things where if I look at my file of people who have made enquiries about Force India, it’s probably about a foot high! If I look at the people who’ve gone beyond that, it’s zero. I think that puts it into context.

“Have they made an approach to us? Yes they have, but so have many other people, and it’s gone nowhere.”

Force India is Indian-owned but is based in Silverstone, the home of F1’s British Grand Prix. The team finished fourth in the 2017 constructors’ championship, behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing. Force India has been the subject of takeover speculation amid legal issues surrounding its co-owner Vijay Mallya.

Mallya has also considered dropping ‘India’ from the team name in order to free up more options from a sponsorship perspective. However, Fernley has suggested that the window of opportunity to implement such a change for the 2018 season, which has commenced in earnest in Melbourne today (Friday) has now closed.

“It’s a shareholders’ decision, and they’ve got to take their time to get it right,” Fernley added. “They’ve got to decide where they want to go and how they want to position it. It’s not something that you should be doing as a five-minute decision.

“Force India had a very clear brand objective when it was launched, and today it’s a recognised brand within F1. So whatever you do for the future has to be really measured and well thought out going forward.”

In other news, Autosport.com has reported that the Netherlands’ Assen circuit, along with its local government, has appointed a race promoter in a bid to finalise a F1 race deal. A street race in a major city such as Amsterdam or Rotterdam, along with a return to Zandvoort, a permanent circuit located on the Dutch coast which regularly held an F1 race through to 1985, have all been touted as options in recent months.

Assen hosts an annual round of the MotoGP motorcycling championship and Autosport said F1 race director Charlie Whiting visited earlier this year, declaring only small changes were required for it to secure the necessary licence for Formula One.

The Netherlands Grand Prix Foundation is now said to have been formed to broker a race agreement with F1’s owners, Liberty Media. The foundation is led by former Assen TT chairman Jos Vaessen, who said: “It feels good to be actively involved in hopefully acquiring, promoting and organising a future F1 grand prix in Assen.” 

The rise of Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen has coincided with a surge of interest from Dutch fans and Formula One is keen to capitalise on this.