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Are Force India slowly coming apart at the seams? // Driver problems, factory issues and chaos at the midfield team

Published by Christine

Force India confirmed their new lineup today, and Tonio Liuzzi was noticeably absent from the list. Whether you're a fan of the driver or not, you can't escape the fact that he has been pushed aside at the expense of an already signed contract. Towards the end of 2010, Tonio was talking about his future prospects and was confident he would be racing with his team this year.

In the team no one has told me anything about it, I have a contract for next year, and I'm already at work with that in mind. I feel safe, not just with the contract I have in my hands, but also with the fine relationship I have with the team.

- Tonio Liuzzi

It's not unusual for contracts to be pushed aside in favour of bigger and hopefully better things. We've seen it many times, with Jenson Button's battle with Williams being the outstanding example. Existing contracts can be dealt with, but this one strikes me as interesting because it is yet another knock against the squeaky clean image that Force India had.

Tonio and Vijay chat in better times
Tonio and Vijay chat in better timesCredit: Force India F1

Way back before the new teams were the darlings of the sport, Force India were the much-loved underdog. Saved from a repetitive cycle of yearly owners, Vijay Mallya snapped up the team and began plowing his money in. Whilst clearly not boasting an encyclopedic knowledge of F1, Mallya had good intentions. He wanted an Indian race, by which time he would have Indian drivers for his Indian team. The fans approved.

Fast forward a few years, and the team aren't so well loved. There's no sign of the Indian drivers that were promised, well not at Force India anyway. We don't know if Liuzzi will take his contract business any further, but the team are no strangers to controversy.

One of the more amusing stories from 2008 saw Eddie Jordan block up an access road to the Force India factory at Silverstone thanks to non-payment. The specifics of the story never really came out, although Jordan did confirm it wasn't to do with Mallya himself but those managing the land. Still made Force India a laughing stock for at least a day.

...even if they did have to turn up with little more than an oversized shed

In the middle of the 2009 season, the Force India crew were visited in the paddock by representatives of the contractors who supplied their motorhome. The property was due to be seized at the Nurburgring, but the crisis was averted enough for Force India to continue racing, even if they did have to turn up with little more than an oversized shed.

2010 was even more disruptive with the team starting to unravel from the inside. Several key employees left, with the most high profile desertion at the start of the year by technical director James Key who jumped ship to Sauber. They'll also lose the replacement technical chief Mark Smith, who is moving on to Lotus.

Smith's Lotus announcement came at roughly the same time that legal wranglings began between Force India, Lotus and Aerolab. The Italian aerodynamics firm were paid over 1 million Euros by the team for unpaid usage of the wind tunnel. Force India, in turn, then launched action against Lotus suspecting them of using FIF1 intellectual property in the shared wind tunnel development space.

Where does all this chaos come from? Is it simply a case of bad luck, or more likely a case of bad direction? This Liuzzi news feels as though it is the latest in a long line of headlines that show how Force India do business, and as each problem occurs, the team sink a little further. Perhaps you don't get ahead in business by making friends, perhaps that is why Mallya is a billionaire. Which simply leaves the question, what worrying news will appear from the team in 2011?