Force India to miss Formula One’s opening pre-season test

Force India will not take part in Formula One’s opening pre-season test in Jerez starting this weekend, the team said on Wednesday. A spokesman dismissed speculation that the Silverstone-based team, run and co-owned by Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya, had made the decision for financial reasons and said they would be present at the following test in Barcelona.

The team had planned to run their 2014 car in Jerez, having already said the new VJM08 would not be ready, but the spokesman said they had since decided the learning opportunities were limited. He added that the decision was made last week.

Jerez has a particularly abrasive surface and does not feature in the championship while Barcelona hosts the Spanish Grand Prix in May and is regarded as a good benchmark for testing. Barcelona hosts two tests, with the first scheduled for February 19-22.

Mercedes-powered Force India, who unveiled a new look at a team presentation in Mexico City last Wednesday, have Mexican driver Sergio Perez and Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg in an unchanged lineup. The team finished sixth last year but spent much of last season calling for cost cuts and a more level playing field for the smaller outfits.

Formula One started 2015 with two teams, Marussia and Caterham, in their death throes and the prospect of only nine on the starting grid when the season starts in Melbourne on March 15. Flamboyant liquor baron Mallya, once known as “The King of Good Times” has hit harder times after the failure of his Kingfisher Airlines.

Indian banks want Mallya to repay more than $1 billion of loans Kingfisher, which has not flown since 2012, owes to a consortium of largely state-run banks.

Force India’s co-owner Subrata Roy has also been held in a New Delhi jail for more than 10 months following a court order for his Sahara group to refund billions of dollars invested in outlawed bonds.