Szafnauer: 'Stressful' 2018 season compromised from the start

Lance Stroll (CDN) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11.
© XPB 

Racing Point Force India team principal Otmar Szafnauer has revealed just how badly the team's 2018 season was affected by the growing financial crisis that eventually led to the business being placed into administration in July.

Even before the start of the season in March, the squad was having to use outdated parts from the previous year at race weekends, because it lacked the funds needed to complete the development of the VJM-11.

"We didn't start this season with the car we wanted to because we didn't have the funding to produce the parts," Szafnauer told Tom Clarkson in an interview for the official F1 podcast Beyond The Grid, presented by Bose this month.

He said that the team's financial situation had been "significantly parlous" from the very beginning.

"We produced a car for winter testing, a launch car, that we wanted to upgrade with the first race car, the Melbourne car," he recalled. "We couldn't do that for quite some time.

"So we started the season with the car we produced for winter testing, which is never your best car. We couldn't change it until well unto the season, and the performances showed.

"Because of it, our performances especially at the beginning were not where we should have been. We didn't score many points. And the finances didn't look as though they were getting any better.

"For me personally, [it was] probably the most stressful year," he admitted. "The stress mainly came from the uncertainty of what was going to happen with the team because of its financial status."

The crisis point was finally reached just before the Hungarian Grand Prix, with driver Sergio Perez applying to the courts to place the team into administration due to insolvency.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11.

"Once the administration button was pressed by Sergio, the uncertainty grew," Szafnauer acknowledged. "But fortunately only for a couple of weeks.

"Then we came out the other side having successfully completed the administration process, with new shareholding and new injection of funding."

With the business being run by the administrators during that period, Szafnauer focussed on trying to keep the team personnel from leaving while things were being worked out.

"The role that I played was to keep the workforce together, because you don't buy this place for its building or its land or its facilities," he explained.

"We lost nobody. Not a single soul. It was a big deal and difficult to do, because usually the best people who are known to other team will have had offers. And they did have offers, from the likes of McLaren and Williams and Renault and some others.

"It was difficult to keep everyone together when the future was uncertain, whereas taking a job at one of the other teams your future was pretty certain.

"But we managed to do it, everybody stayed together, and in the end the consortium led by Lawrence Stroll which was the successful bidder got the team they were looking to buy."

With fresh funding, the team is now exploring how it can improve its current ageing infrastructure to ensure that it will remain competitive in the mid-field in 2019 and beyond.

"We mustn't take our eye off the ball, which is building, designing, producing and developing a competitive racing car," Szafnauer cautioned.

"I've seen it so many times where teams have decided to either build a new wind tunnel or a new factory or new facilities, and the performance of the car has suffered.

"The same people that design and specify the factory are the same ones who design the specify the racing car - and if you're doing one you can't be doing the other.

"So we've got to be very careful that if we do embark - and we will embark on improving our facilities and infrastructure - that the car doesn't suffer.

“2019, I think, will be very competitive again in the midfield,” he added. “We saw Haas were much more competitive this year. Renault too finished fourth in the championship.

"Toro Rosso I believe will be sharing a lot with Red Bull next year, including the engine – [and] Honda will be getting better. So the midfield fight is going to be intense.

"We hope that we can be in that fight and be successful being the top of the midfield, so that would be fourth.”

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