NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Adrian Sutil could be in the frame for a return to Force India and Formula One if fellow-German Nico Hulkenberg moves to Sauber next season, according to team co-owner Vijay Mallya.
The liquor baron told Reuters in an Indian Grand Prix interview that the driver line-up, and how best to invest the latest tranche of funds paid to the team by the Sahara Group, will be discussed at a board meeting this week.
Britain’s Paul Di Resta looks certain to stay with the team in 2013, after speculation about a move to McLaren or Mercedes came to nothing, but the other seat appears uncertain.
“I offered an extension to both drivers. I hear from the media that Nico has signed with Sauber. Well, if he has then good luck to him,” said Mallya.
“I have not been officially notified by Nico of anything,” added the principal. “He hasn’t sat down with me and told me that. I would expect that he would if he was on his way...I have an excellent relationship with him, he’s a wonderful guy. He’s done well for us.”
Asked whether he could replace the highly-rated Hulkenberg with someone of a similar stature, Mallya smiled. “Yes absolutely, why not? Never forget I always have the potential of considering Sutil again. Sutil is always quick. So there are many options.
“I would certainly consider him,” he added.
Sutil would be a familiar face having spent his entire Formula One career with the team from 2007, when it was still called Spyker, to the end of last year.
The German’s 2011 season was clouded by controversy after he was involved in a Shanghai nightclub brawl, for which he was handed an 18-month suspended sentence and fined 200,000 euros for grievous bodily harm by a German court.
Mallya said he would love Hulkenberg to stay but if he did move on, there would be no acrimony between them. By example, he pointed to Sutil’s presence in the motorhome at several races this year.
“Even though I didn’t re-sign him for 2012, he’s still welcome,” he said. “That’s the kind of culture I’d like to have in this team. Very friendly, very informal. So Nico will always be part of us. I won’t stand in his way.”
Force India are currently seventh in the constructors’ championship, after finishing sixth overall last season, with Sauber 23 points ahead.
Sauber have been less consistent finishers but have reaped the benefits of four podium placings while Force India’s best of the season remains Hulkenberg’s fourth in Belgium and Di Resta’s fourth in Singapore.
Force India’s best ever result was second place with Italian Giancarlo Fisichella in Belgium in 2009.
“That (the 2009 race) was one moment of glory which all of us cherish. But what I wanted to see was not these flashes in the pan, but a consistent progression and I think we’ve demonstrated that,” said Mallya.
“I’m still chasing Sauber for the rest of the season. Nothing is impossible.”
Mallya said he was happy with the progress of the British-based team he took over in 2007 but now was the time to plan “the second phase of our development”.
“It’s very clear to us that we need some serious investment decisions,” he added.
“We have the capital, part of the $100 million deal I did with Sahara for the infusion of funds into the company for improvement basically.
“Now we’ve got to take a decision on how we are going to spend it because if I now want to start challenging Lotus and Mercedes and go up into the top five, we need some better tools and better equipment.”
Indian business conglomerate Sahara Group invested $100 million in Force India and took a 42.5 percent stake in October last year. Mallya said in May that the money would be paid in three tranches over three years with the final one due in 2013.
The Sahara Group made headlines in August when they were ordered by the Supreme Court to refund about $4.6 billion to investors after it ruled finance schemes run by two of its companies were illegal.
Mallya, whose loss-making Kingfisher Airline is currently grounded, said he and founder Subrata Roy Sahara had met Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone at the weekend and told him: “Don’t listen to what the media are saying. We’re here and we are here to stay.” (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Patrick Johnston)