Dr Vijay Mallya has admitted that Force India's first full season of Formula 1 in 2008 has been 'erratic' and 'flattened out' over the second half - but he vowed the Silverstone-based squad would come out fighting with 'a truly competitive race car' in 2009.

Having bought out Midland F1 towards the end of the 2007 campaign, predictions were that Force India would take a leap up the pecking order this year but, despite a number of starring performances - from Adrian Sutil in Monaco and particularly Giancarlo Fisichella, in Singapore and Brazil - that progress has never consistently crystallised and points have proved frustratingly elusive.

"We've had a year that's been pretty erratic," Mallya confessed. "We started out pretty well and then we flattened out. We improved again and flattened out yet again, and since the European Grand Prix we've just stayed flat.

"I did, however, say that following the introduction of the seamless-shift gearbox we would not do any further major development of the 2008 car, and that all the focus would be on 2009. Perhaps this is also reflecting that, but I'm a firm believer that one should look ahead and not behind.

"You certainly learn lessons from past history, but you can't keep moaning and groaning over spilt milk. I'm very confident that we will put on more than a decent show in 2009."

Looking to next season, the F1 rumour mill has suggested for some weeks that Force India is set to switch engine-supplier from Ferrari to Mercedes-Benz, with McLaren KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) technology and further technical support - that could even stretch as far as chassis and aerodynamic parts - all coming as part of the package.

Though Mallya had previously hinted that an announcement could be made at Interlagos last weekend, no news was forthcoming - with the understanding that the Indian also wants a complete transmission to be included in the deal a possible sticking point.

"I am in active discussion with McLaren and Ferrari," the Kingfisher Airlines billionaire acknowledged. "I have asked for the entire drivetrain and KERS package from both potential suppliers. Ferrari are not very sure that they can give me the entire drivetrain.

"Adrian suffered gearbox failure in Shanghai. At the end of the day what sense does it make for me to have a great engine, a great KERS system, and a gearbox that's tentative? That's why I said go for the whole hog, a good tried and proven and tested package from the top two teams. That's what I'm seeking to achieve."

Of bigger significance still, however, is Force India's ongoing agreement with Ferrari, which would need to be terminated should a deal be struck with the Scuderia's arch-rivals McLaren - quite likely at a not insubstantial price. McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh was quoted by F1SA as having confirmed that a final agreement cannot be reached 'as long as Ferrari do not consent'.

Moreover, the change would come at a distinctly late stage in preparations for the 2009 campaign, when F1 will usher in a whole raft of new regulations aimed at cutting costs, improving the on-track spectacle and creating greater uncertainty and more of a level playing field.

"Ferrari and us are very, very close friends," Mallya revealed. "We have an excellent relationship. We have told them exactly what we want; we are in discussion. They are aware that I have talked to McLaren, so everything is completely transparent from our point-of-view.

"It is also recognised that if for whatever reason we need to part, it will be a very friendly parting - that's all agreed. If they have incurred some costs developing engines for us for next year, we'll talk about it. We're certainly not going to be bloody-minded.

"If they have incurred costs on my behalf, I think I owe it to them to offer to reimburse. Beyond that I think there is a very positive and friendly spirit on either side, and so there will not be any acrimony or any wilful enforcement of a contract.

"I will make sure that my team has the best solution possible for engine, drivetrain and KERS so we can get a good headstart and try to get the points that have eluded us so far this season."

As to why Force India is looking elsewhere for its 2009 transmission, despite having worked tirelessly to develop its own seamless-shift 'box this season, Mallya was unequivocal. The 53-year-old explained that in his strategy of 'thinking big' and in the interests of efficiency, going down the 'customer' route is by far the option that makes the most sense.

"Everybody in this company has to realise that R&D and in-house development is one thing, but we need to think ahead and we need to think big," he underlined. "We have to be competitive, we have to improve our performance [and] we must regularly be in the points. We can't have this situation, and I don't have the luxury of time to be able to just sit back and allow people to keep developing.

"There is a huge initiative to cut costs in F1. We are talking about the price of an engine, and you know what Max Mosley is proposing. People are talking about the number of employees that you should have per team, putting a ceiling on the budgets and how much you can spend. What really needs to be focussed on is that the maximum money is going on testing and development. That is not a small expense.

"Even if you were to limit the price of an engine and a drivetrain, you necessarily have to look at the R&D expenditure if you want to seriously lower the costs of F1. I think that every team in the room in the last two FOTA (Formula One Teams' Association) meetings has clearly acknowledged that given the huge meltdown in the world today, there is an urgent need to tighten our belts, cut costs and try to achieve a profitable F1 team rather than expending vast sums of money without any control, as many teams have been doing over the last years.

"I say to my guys at Silverstone, 'we have use for you, we certainly value your talents and your skills'. We will use them, but we will use them more effectively to make ourselves a better team and race a better car. Just because I decide to buy the drivetrain from a particular supplier doesn't mean that my guys won't have anything to do."

Whilst DTM Vice-Champion Paul di Resta has been mentioned as a potential replacement for Sutil in 2009 - ahead of a mooted promotion to McLaren-Mercedes alongside Lewis Hamilton in 2010 - Mallya recently insisted that his driver line-up next season would be unchanged from that of 2008. Sutil and Fisichella are, he is adamant, the right pairing to drive Force India on to its goals of increased competitiveness and regular points-scoring next year.

"I was asked whether I was making any changes to the drivers, and I said no," he affirmed. "Once we get the car sorted out, I think these guys will perform, because I think they have the talent to perform. I think that it's been a combination of many things this year.

"There have been occasions on which my drivers have made mistakes but, more often than not, the car has let them down. For those that believe in luck, we haven't really had any luck on our side.

"The year has gone remarkably quickly. We have improved, this much I will say, [but] we haven't improved enough, it's pretty clear. Am I well-advised to spend my time yelling and screaming at people? No. I'd rather motivate them into saying we'll learn our lessons from the mistakes of 2008, and we go in fully-charged for 2009 with a comprehensive package from one of the two top teams in F1, and [will] build on that [with] a truly competitive race car."


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