When Force India first took to the grid several years ago, they were considered something of a joke. The pedigree of the team was distinctly hand-me-down. The team wasn’t started from scratch, in the manner of the 2010 rookie teams, but was acquired from the Spyker team for 88 million euros. Spyker, of course, had acquired the team from the Midland team, which, in turn, had acquired it from Jordan.
Jordan, of course, gave many young F1 hopefuls their start in the sport, including Ralf Schumacher, Giancarlo Fisichella, Rubens Barrichello and Eddie Irvine. If the team goes down in history for anything, however, it might be for giving a certain Michael Schumacher his first F1 drive, in a one-off deal, at Spa in 1991. Team owner Eddie Jordan didn’t realize what he had, and allowed young Schumi to be poached immediately after that race.
According to fable, Tom Walkinshaw, then engineering director at Benetton, after witnessing Schumi’s stunning Spa qualifying effort (he snagged 7th slot in a car that had no business being that far up the grid), marched straight over to team honcho Flavio Briatore and told him that, regardless of whether he had to beg, borrow or steal to get it done, he simply had to get Schumi under contract. At the very next race on the calendar, Schumacher was wearing Benetton livery, and was lining up as Nelson Piquet, Sr’s team mate.
While Jordan did eventually score a few wins, the team eventually succumbed to the fiscal pressures that beset many privateer teams during the onset of the manufacturer’s era. In due course, Eddie Jordan sold the team, and became one of the richest men in Ireland (although I suppose that’s a relative statement). In its later incarnations as Midlands and Spyker, the team seemed to become further mired in the doldrums, so it’s no wonder that hopes for the team that became Force India weren’t particularly high.
But that was then, and this is now. Force India have made good use of their resources, and have enjoyed profitable technical relationships with McLaren and Mercedes. They’ve turned into a solid mid-field team, and in 2010 finished only one point behind Williams in the constructors’ championship, placing them seventh to Williams’ sixth, in a field of 12 teams.
That being the case, it’s no surprise that the seats at Force India have become coveted by a number of drivers whose immediate futures have yet to be determined. Such drivers as Nick Heidfeld, Pedro de la Rosa and Nico Hulkenberg, all of whom have lost their drives this year, would all welcome the opportunity to race in white, green and orange livery.
As Hulkenberg recently told the official Formula 1 website, “Force India is our best shot, but it is also no secret that quite a few drivers are trying to land a seat there. …I hope, and we are working very hard, to get a deal done but it is no secret that there are not many good race seats left. The hope is still there and I am not giving up.”
While the Williams team, which recently discharged Hulkenberg in favor of P2 champion Pastor Maldonado (the Venezuelan is apparently bringing a significant amount of state oil money to the deal, in a pay-to-play arrangement), certainly has an illustrious history (their title winners include Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg, Nelson Piquet Sr, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve), their fortunes have fallen as much as Force India’s have risen. On paper, at any rate, the teams have a near parity. So a switch to Force India would make perfect sense for Hulkenberg, in that respect.
Of course, Williams would be a better choice for Hulkenberg, if he had that choice, but he doesn’t. Force India is clearly his next best alternative. And Hulkenberg would certainly be a better choice for Force India than either Heidfeld or de la Rosa, both of whom are getting a bit past their shelf dates. But that still leaves the question of which of the current Force India drivers, Adrian Sutil or Tonio Liuzzi, would be bounced to make room for the Hulk.
Admittedly, talk has been swirling about Adrian Sutil’s future in this context He began the year being whispered about as a possible replacement for fellow German Michael Schumacher at Mercedes, but the second half of his season was rather lurid, and it now at seems that he’s slightly less coveted than a bad cold. Then again, would the team really hang on to Tonio Liuzzi at Sutil’s expense? It seems unlikely. Conversely, was Hulkenberg’s performance at Williams in 2010 stellar enough to make him a hotter commodity than either Sutil or Liuzzi? A big question mark there.
Hulkenberg did do something at Williams that no other driver has done for the team for a number of years: he took a pole position this year, at Interlagos. How much is that worth? The Hulk himself thought it might have earned him a bit more capital in the team. “[The] Brazilian pole position was something that Williams had not tasted in years,” he noted. Then, ruefully, he added, “But then again, one lap does not change the course of history.”