Force India’s COO: “It’s the fans that really make the difference”


By Ryan Werner | At the Gran Premio de Mexico, the Paddock magazine caught up with Otmar Szafnauer, Force India’s Chief Operating Officer at their paddock in the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

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On the business side, have the changes been significant for Force India under the new management?

Not yet, the new management is still restricted by some of the old agreements, contracts that we have in place. The two big areas from a business perspective that we need to address are the financial distribution and equality, and perhaps a budget cap that everybody should follow in order to bring costs down, and both of those things have yet to be implemented.

How’s your perspective on your ROI in comparison to other teams?

We spend the least amount probably of any team in the pit lane, but our results compared to what we invest is pretty good.

Have you seen any improvements to the fan experience interaction?

That’s for sure, it’s become more accessible and therefore it’s way better for the fans. Around the race-track people are looking at doing more and giving the attendees a better experience when they are here, like having paddock access at a certain level, or autograph sessions with the drivers, and I think all that’s great. That has definitely changed for the better.

What’s the kind of vibe you receive at this race, having a Mexican driver compared to the other events?

Even without a local driver, the fans in Mexico are passionate as we can see it by the huge crowds, there’s a tremendous history of auto racing in the country, which makes them enjoy the sport. And then, turning to our drivers, we decided to have two Mexican drivers out for practice one (Sergio “Checo” Perez and Alfonso Celis, Reserve Driver), the only team to do so, and having these two talents here was fantastic.

Sergio Perez has been with the team for a while now, he’s a fantastic and excellent driver, a very skilled racer, and everybody would like to have him in their car on a Sunday afternoon because he can get the job done. He’s very experienced now, at the very top of his game, and we’re happy to have him. What that means for this race, for example, makes him really, really busy, the team is also busy as always, but you know, it’s a positive way of being busy. We work for the sponsors, the fans, the media, and for the people who care about racing in Mexico – and there’s a lot of them!

We spend the least amount probably of any team in the pit lane, but our results compared to what we invest is pretty good.

Do you prepare for this race differently than the rest of the season?

No, we don’t do anything different, apart from media attention and our commitment to them. We had an upgrade here to make the car go just a little bit faster, sometimes we plan it that way, as one of our major sponsors is Mexican, so it’s always nice to add a little bit of performance in their home race.

Marketing-wise, do you apply any certain strategies for this race?

Because of our relationships through the Mexican drivers, we also look to maximise and leverage that with potential local sponsors. Absolutely, we do have a strategy, because it’s natural for Mexican companies if they want to sponsor someone in Formula 1, to sponsor a team that actually has a Mexican driver. It makes sense and therefore, we try to bring value to national companies with Perez.

Although it’s not Mexican pink, do you think local fans like the car colour?

I think so, at the beginning I don’t want to say it was a shock but it was different, now people are getting used to it; it makes us stand out. I think it’s a nice colour, pink is elegant, we also match it with blue and the combination looks pretty nice.

From a fan standpoint, how do you think this race will be different than the one from last year after Esteban Gutierrez’ departure?

It feels different in many ways. We have a big fan following because of our drivers and we’re racing at their home race, not to mention we have big Mexican sponsors, with all the Carlos Slim companies that support us. Essentially, it’s the fans that really make the difference at the end of the day.    

As an athlete, having a rivalry is always healthy and feeds the media, but having it in your own team must have a negative impact on everyone, how is the team taking action on this?

They’re both very competitive, so that’s a good thing. We can’t point fingers as it takes two to manage a relationship and we’re not going to lie, obviously, the chemistry is not there, but we’re working on that. Respect has to first be earned on the track and then we’ll go from there.

Do you have any new corporate partners that you will announce at the end of the season or beginning of the next one?

We’re working on that now, and we’ll be hopefully announcing new corporate partners, but that’s not completed yet so it’s hard to say.

Will you have an after-party here?

For sure, absolutely, I like the Mexican people, they are very friendly, I like their food, but mostly Sunday night, they do know how to party.

You finished 4th in the constructor’s championship last year and you’ll finish on the same spot this year as well, are your setting higher targets for 2018?

Next season, looking ahead, I think will be an even more difficult season. With all the significant engine and performance changes from the different teams, I think it’s going to get even more competitive next year. For us to finish fourth next year would be a big achievement, but we’re always looking forward, never looking back, and we’re working tremendously hard.

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