Force India may have gone under during the 2018 season, but much of its day-to-day has remained the same. Besides, not only Sergio Perez stayed put after the change of owners, but Otmar Szafnauer is still at the helm of the side. The Romanian-born (but besides as American as it gets) knows Formula 1 very well after years of experience. Now, it's high time for Racing Point to return to the glory days of Force India.
Calm American influence
Before Szafnauer became in charge of Force India, the American was already involved in the automotive industry. Initially at Ford, later in the pinnacle of motorsport at BAR. He didn’t switch to Jaguar, but he did move to Honda when the Japanese team returned to Formula 1. The calm Szafnauer quickly climbed the ranks there, before it abruptly coming to an end when Honda pulled the plug at the end of 2008. At first, Ross Brawn only became the team boss of Honda, not much later it became clear that it's more than just a position within the team.
Although Brawn GP took over the whole of Honda, there was no place for Otmar Szafnauer according to Brawn. Ross Brawn himself informed Szafnauer at the end of 2008 he had to look for work elsewhere.
The success of Force India
Szafnauer isn’t sidelined for long as Force India made him an offer. The team that used to drive under the name Spyker found its way up the ladder in 2009 (first without Szafnauer) and finally took points and even a podium place during the Belgian GP. It was up to Szafnauer to make such results more frequent in the future.
Under the leadership of the American, many drivers came and went at Force India. With a lineup consisting of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, Force India achieves its best final result in the championship: P4 in 2016 with 173 points. One season later, Nico Hulkenberg moves to Renault and it was Esteban Ocon who got the German’s seat. Again P4 for the Szafnauer-led team in 2017, this time with 14 points more than a year earlier (187).
Force India was not by any means a rich team. With a relatively small workforce and a budget significantly smaller than that of any top team, they still managed to perform brilliantly year after year, especially in terms of point scored per dollar invested. However, when owner Vijay Mallya was constantly chased by creditors, the curtain fell: Force India was put into administration prior to the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix.
There were plenty of interested parties, but the question was what was best for the team. Sergio Perez and Otmar Szafnauer ultimately managed to get the best for the team by choosing a consortium led by billionaire Lawrence Stroll (father of Lance Stroll). Szafnauer is the team boss of the new team called Racing Point, Perez stays on as a driver.
The one less happy with the deal was Esteban Ocon. The French driver is part of the Mercedes junior program, but that alone wasn't enough to guarantee him a seat at Racing Point. Instead, as expected, Lance Stroll came over from Williams. Otmar Szafnauer has no choice and had to watch on as the young Canadian driver performed significantly less than Perez.
Still, Szafnauer remains hopeful, knowing that the 2021 change of regulations offers a chance to gain ground on other teams in midfield. Lawrence Stroll's money will be used to make investments (including a new factory) and even to sign a contract with car manufacturer Aston Martin. With Szafnauer at the helm, the future Aston Martin F1 Team could become the perfect example of how a relatively small team in Formula 1 can grow to be a David beating Goliath.