Force India spot up for grabs for Adrian Sutil and Jules Bianchi

Adrian Sutil and Jules Bianchi could face a shoot-out in Barcelona to decide who will partner Paul Di Resta at Force India this season.

It is the one remaining vacancy on the grid and it looks to be between Sutil, who drove for the team between 2007 and 2011, and the test driver Bianchi, who drove the car in last week's test session in Jerez.

Force India will announce who will go to Barcelona on Monday. Testing will run there from Tuesday to Friday, with a third and final session, also at the Circuit de Catalunya, due to take place between 28 February and 3 March. It is during or after that final practice that Force India are expected to announce their second driver, completing the grid line-up for the new season, which will begin in Melbourne on 17 March.

Force India have confirmed that Sutil has been to the team's Silverstone headquarters this week for a seat fitting. "At this stage the test-driving schedule for the Barcelona test is not finalised but there is a possibility Adrian could be involved," a team spokesman said. "The driving schedule will be communicated on Monday next week."

Sutil, who was found guilty of grievous bodily harm a year ago and handed an 18-month suspended sentence, did not race in Formula One last year. His place in the team was taken by Nico Hulkenberg, who had an impressive season but then moved to Sauber.

Meanwhile Force India's future in Formula One will not be compromised by the ongoing difficulties facing the co-owner Vijay Mallya, whose Kingfisher Airlines owe a reported £840m to 17 banks.

Force India's deputy team principal, Bob Fernley, has always said the F1 team is ring-fenced. He said on Thursday: "There is a disconnect between what happens in Vijay's business and what Vijay is doing on the F1 team. So it doesn't matter what happens there. The shares in United Spirits have quadrupled in the last few months, so he did a wonderful deal there.

"But whether Kingfisher or United Spirits is doing well or not doesn't affect the team, and it's very difficult for us to get that message across, although we have been trying for several years. We get a story every three or four months where we are about to go bankrupt, or someone is selling us or whatever, and we've had that for five years, so we are used to it.

"Five times a year we are up for sale. But we are still there and the strength of Force India, which so many people seem to have missed, is our shareholders.

"We don't have to go to the external market to be able to raise our race budgets. We are blessed to have quality shareholders like Vijay and Sahara."

Formula one, however, is going into the new season with a deep sense of unease about its finances. And a new Concorde Agreement – the contract between the teams, the sport's governing body, the FIA, and the commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone – is not in place. The old agreement expired last year.

Powered by article was written by Paul Weaver, for The Guardian on Thursday 14th February 2013 19.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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