July 8, 2018 / 1:50 PM / 3 months ago

Motor Racing: Force India open to offers, says Mallya

SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) - Force India’s shareholders would consider serious offers for the British-based Formula One team but there are none at present, according to co-owner and principal Vijay Mallya.

FILE PHOTO: Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Britain, March 16, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

The Indian businessman, who has a 42.5 percent stake, said there was a possibility of main sponsor BWT getting more involved and changing the team’s name.

“If somebody comes along and wants to pay an attractive price for anything, you have to put your commercial hat on and think about it commercially, not emotionally,” Mallya told Reuters at the British Grand Prix.

“And that’s precisely where I am.

“I cannot comment on the status of offers or discussions. But there is no agreed offer on the table backed by cash.”

Mallya is fighting in court against extradition to India on fraud charges, with Indian banks seeking to recover loans granted to his defunct Kingfisher Airlines.

His difficulties and those of co-owners Sahara Group have triggered speculation about the team’s future. But Mallya insisted they had no bearing on the day-to-day running of the team.

India’s Sahara conglomerate has been ordered to repay billions of dollars to investors in bonds that were ruled to have been mis-sold.

“Sahara’s problems and my problems are not new problems. They have been going on for more than three years. And within that period we have finished twice in fourth position in the world constructors’ championship,” said Mallya.

“This team is independent, it’s professionally managed. And it performs. So whatever difficulties the shareholders may or may not have, it doesn’t impact the team.”

Mallya said he had lost count of how many offers he had received for the team over the last 10 years and expected that to continue with changes in the distribution of prize money expected from 2021.

“When Liberty (Media) took over (the sport last year) and everybody thought things would change, there was serious interest from even private equity,” he said.

“If you go by what Liberty is saying...from 2021 the income distribution may be vastly different. And therefore the team may be entitled to a lot more of the share of the prize fund, which goes to the bottom line and makes the team that much more valuable.”

Asked about a possible name change, mooted last year, Mallya said Austrian water technology company BWT had produced “a big wish list”.

“If BWT wants the name of the team to be changed to BWT Racing, like Red Bull Racing, they need to make a very long-term commitment,” he said.

“If they want the chassis name changed, then I need F1 commission approval. But it has to be long-term. If BWT decides to walk out of Formula One, I can’t be stuck with the BWT chassis name.

“They are considering it, but that’s up to them,” said the Indian. “They know that a chassis name change is a much bigger event than just sponsorship.”

Mallya said fourth place in the championship remained achievable for Force India.

Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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