Tributes have been paid to former Force India deputy team principal Robert Fernley, who has passed away at the age of 70.
Under Fernley the lean operation regularly produced results which outstripped its comparatively meagre resources. It rose to finish fourth in the championship behind the powerhouse trio Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari in 2016 and 2017, notwithstanding a major aerodynamics rules change across the two seasons.
However Mallya’s financial empire was in trouble by then, and by 2018 the situation had become dire. A consortium headed by Lawrence Stroll purchased Force India’s assets and Fernley’s time in charge was over.
In the years leading up to then, Fernley was an outspoken and trenchant critic of those he considered responsible for worsening the financial plight faced by teams such as his. In 2013 he launched a scathing attack on F1’s then-owners CVC Capital Partners, accusing them of “raping the sport” and calling them “the worst thing that ever happened to Formula 1.”
He also turned his ire on Red Bull, claiming in 2015 they triggered the collapse of the Formula One Teams Association – which was working to obtain better financial deals for the competitors – by striking their own arrangement with Bernie Ecclestone, who was running F1 at the time for CVC.
Before heading up Force India, Fernley worked in America’s IndyCar and CanAm series. He ran Ensign F1 cars engineered by Mo Nunn for Mallya in a non-championship Indian Grand Prix, forging the contact which would lead to his F1 return many years later.
After Force India’s demise, McLaren hired Fernley to run its Indianapolis 500 entry for Fernando Alonso in 2019. This ended ignominiously, however, as Alonso failed to make the cut for the 33-car field after suffering set-up problems through practice. McLaren and Fernley parted ways soon afterwards. He took charge of the FIA’s Single Seater Commission in 2020, a role he held until last year.
Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, also a former head of the commission and Fernley’s opposite number during his time in charge of Ferrari, said he was “saddened” by the news of his death. “He was such an important part of Formula 1 and his love and passion for the sport will live forever,” Domenicali said. “My thoughts are with his family and friends at this very sad time.”
The FIA, Aston Martin and many others paid tribute to him. Among those who drove for him, Esteban Ocon said he was “sad to hear about the passing of Bob Fernley today.”
“He was a great person and leader and I was lucky enough to work and learn from him during my days at Force India. Sending my thoughts and condolences to his family and friends.”
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