United spirit

44Formula1car A force to reckon with: Mallya with his Formula 1 car | Amey Mansabdar

While outrage against Vijay Mallya “fleeing” India dominated airwaves across the world, he was busy preparing for the 2016 Formula One season, which opens with the Australian Grand Prix scheduled for March 20. Mallya also attended the FIA World Motor Sport Council Meeting in Geneva on March 3 and 4.

Regardless of the controversies surrounding him, Mallya's F1 team, Force India, continues to improve. It came fifth in the constructors' championship in 2015, which was the team’s best finish since Mallya took over in 2008. During mid-season, Force India introduced a new car, which helped it occasionally challenge marquee teams like Ferrari and Williams. It even secured a podium finish.

Although there was some uncertainty about Mallya's ownership of Force India following his exit from United Spirits, Mallya said he continued to own 42.5 per cent of Force India's shares. The team is owned by a separate UK-based company set up by Mallya, called Watson Ltd. The motor sports fraternity and Mallya’s friends are not too worried about Force India’s immediate future. The team has the reputation of being one of the most cost-effective teams on the grid. Mallya has on board blue-chip sponsorship partners like Telcel, Claro, NEC and Banamex, ensuring profitability of the team.

Mallya, however, had to give up control of his Indian Premier League cricket team, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), although he was present at the auction in Bengaluru on February 6. But on February 25, Mallya resigned as director of Royal Challengers Sports Private Limited (RCSPL), a different subsidiary that controls RCB, under a deal with Diageo. He will continue as chief mentor, but will not have any “responsibility and accountability” in his new role.

For the moment, the Indian cricket board and the players are not worried. “There are no outstanding dues to the players,” said a board official. RCB’s longterm future, however, is not clear. The Diageo-controlled board recently said it would look to extract full value from the franchise. “All options will be evaluated—whether to drive more synergies with the Royal Challenge brand (more investments) or to exit the property if need be.”

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