Vijay Mallya, wanted in India for charges of money laundering and defaulting on bank loans, has promised his Formula One team Force India will “dream big” as they look to break into the top three.
The flamboyant businessman, now based in Britain, remains the co-owner of Force India despite an extradition request from Indian authorities to face trial on charges of financial fraud and defaulting on loans worth, in total, over $1 billion.
Last season Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg, who has since moved to Renault, drove the Force India cars into an impressive fourth position in the constructors’ championship, with only champions Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari ahead of them.
Yet while they may be outspent by many other teams, Mallya said breaking into the top three was the aim of everyone at Force India in 2017.
“I said to Sergio from the beginning that as much as people may say that there is this huge barrier of breaking into the top three, I see no reason why we can’t,” Mallya said at the launch of the team’s new car at Silverstone, central England, on Wednesday.
“We will dream big. We will set our sights high and we are going to go for it.
“I can’t remember being more excited ahead of a new season. The car looks aggressive and purposeful, and is the result of a huge effort behind the scenes over the last 12 months.”
Mexican driver Perez, who will be joined at British-based Force India by French rising star Esteban Ocon, was in equally confident mood.
“Last year we finished fourth so I see no reason why we cannot improve that,” he said. “The base is very solid and there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful for that.”
Perez added: “That means a massive year for us, but I think Force India will be the big surprise. I really hope we can improve.
“I am very optimistic about the car and the season. Of course it is easy to talk now, but I have a feeling that Force India has done a tremendous job over the winter.
Force India are the third constructor to launch their new car this week following Sauber and Renault, with Mercedes set to follow suit on Thursday before Ferrari and McLaren do likewise on Friday.
The first official testing session of the season is in Barcelona on Monday, with the opening race the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 26.
Meanwhile Mallya’s business dealings are being looked into by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation and the federal Enforcement Directorate, a financial crimes agency.
This month saw Mallya, known for his extravagance and who once branded himself the “King of Good Times”, sacked from the board of United Breweries, the firm through which he once controlled his business empire.
He made Kingfisher beer a global brand and ran a now-defunct airline with the same name, besides being the owner of a cricket side and Force India.