x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Vijay Mallya goes on offensive as Force India toil

Nico Hulkenberg only 12th fastest and Paul di Resta down in 16th spot in India.

Nico Hulkenberg will start the Indian Grand Prix in 12th place.
Nico Hulkenberg will start the Indian Grand Prix in 12th place.

GREATER NOIDA, INDIA // Vijay Mallya, having arrived at his home grand prix under a cloud of controversy and allegations, came out fighting yesterday and urged his Force India drivers to do the same on track today at Buddh International Circuit.

The co-owner of the country's first and only licensed Formula One marque, flew into Delhi from London on Friday aboard his private Airbus, despite local media having reported he might duck his team's home race to avoid having the plane impounded. Kingfisher Airlines, which had its licence suspended last week, has been grounded for almost a month following a staff protest over unpaid wages.

Mallya, however, lambasted the Indian press and questioned their credibility, adding: "There is no libel law in India, so there is nothing you can do to bring them to book. Obviously, if I am not at my home grand prix, why should I be anywhere else? Why should my plane be at risk? It is so stupid."

The presence of the aviation and alcohol tycoon was not enough to prevent disappointment for Force India, whose two drivers failed to finish in the top 10 during qualifying. Nico Hulkenberg will start today's Indian Grand Prix from 12th position, while teammate Paul di Resta will be four places further back.

"It's a big weekend for us, but the performance we showed is not really where we want to be," Di Resta said. "It's an important day and we need to try to recover some ground if we want to come home with points."

Hulkenberg added: "My [fastest] lap was actually pretty good with no mistakes, but that was just the maximum for us. I still have confidence for the race though because we have seen how close the times are."

Mallya is optimistic of better to come today though.

"It's our home grand prix and we want to deliver strong races and hopefully see both Force Indias inside the points come the end," he said.

Narain Karthikeyan, India's only native driver, said he was "happy" with his performance after placing his Hispania ahead of Marussia's Charles Pic, but starting 23rd from 24 cars cannot be viewed as inspirational. The 35 year old is aware of his limitations and it appears Force India are too.

Karthikeyan has recently been linked with the Indian team following growing speculation Hulkenberg will join Sauber.

However, when Force India's deputy team principal Bob Fernley was asked yesterday whether recruiting Karthikeyan was a possibility, he replied: "For the moment, we have no such plan.

"We are trying to improve our performance every year. Show me a good Indian driver and I will definitely be interested in him."

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