July 28, 2018 / 9:10 AM / 23 days ago

Motor racing-Force India to operate as normal in administration

BUDAPEST, July 28 (Reuters) - Administrators for Force India said on Saturday the Formula One team would continue to operate as normal while future options were assessed.

The team, co-owned by Indian businessman Vijay Mallya, went into administration on Friday after a High Court hearing in London.

“We shall be engaging with key stakeholders on an urgent basis to secure the best outcome for creditors,” said the joint administrator Geoff Rowley in a statement issued by FRP Advisory.

“In the meantime, the team will continue to operate as normal, including racing in Hungary this weekend.

“Our aim is for business as usual whilst we assess options to secure the future of the team.”

Force India have finished fourth in the championship for the last two years and are currently fifth in a tight midfield battle.

Their drivers are Mexican Sergio Perez and Frenchman Esteban Ocon, who is backed by engine provider Mercedes.

A well-placed source told Reuters that Ocon, who has been linked to a move to Renault, was now a free agent under the terms of the administration.

The legal action was triggered by Perez, supported by Mercedes and sponsor BWT who are all owed millions by the Silverstone-based team.

The racefans.net website cited court documents in which Perez’s legal team claimed Force India “is or is likely to become unable to pay its debt” and its parent company “are unlikely to be able to provide financial support”.

FRP Advisory LLP are the same firm that acted as administrators for the now-defunct Manor Formula One team, which folded before the start of the 2017 season.

Force India’s problems are well-documented, with team principal Mallya fighting an attempt by India to extradite him from Britain to face charges of fraud, which he denies.

A group of Indian banks are seeking to recover more than $1 billion of loans granted to his defunct Kingfisher Airlines.

Mallya has decried a “political witchhunt” and has said he is seeking to sell assets worth about 139 billion rupees ($2.03 billion) to repay creditors.

In a letter to Force India employees, seen by Reuters, Mallya confirmed Perez had filed the petition, with BWT stating that their sponsorship amounts were only loans.

Mallya also identified the largest creditor as the team’s own holding company which he said was owed 159 million pounds ($208.43 million) compared to the largest of the smaller creditors being owed less than 10 million.

Mallya, who is currently unable to leave Britain, said both he and his deputy Bob Fernley remained in their positions.

$1 = 0.7628 pounds Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Nick Mulvenney

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