Vijay Mallya’s nameplate gleamed on the door of his office in the Force India hospitality at the Indian Grand Prix on Thursday while a team sponsor board outside carried the words ‘Fly Kingfisher’.
The flamboyant Formula One team owner and self-proclaimed ‘King of Good Times’ was nowhere to be seen however while his debt-ridden Kingfisher Airline is not flying anywhere just at the moment.
The tycoon’s whereabouts have been the subject of considerable interest while his airline staff have protested at not being paid since March and the country’s aviation regulator has suspended Kingfisher’s licence.
Although Kingfisher employees agreed on Thursday to resume work after a meeting with the company chief executive, the liquor and aviation baron has not been seen in India or a Formula One paddock for weeks.
A media report on Thursday suggested Mallya’s private Airbus could be impounded if he landed in India because of dues allegedly owed to airport authorities.
Another non-bailable court warrant issued against him over bounced cheques to an airport operator was revoked this month after the dues were settled.
Force India deputy principal Bob Fernley, speaking to Reuters in Mallya’s office, played down such speculation however. “He’ll be coming into India tomorrow (Friday) evening or early morning Saturday,” he said. “As far as I am aware, it’s just the normal business. Arrive Saturday, do qualifying and come in for the race on Sunday.”
Fernley said Mallya was in Europe and met Formula One teams, governing body and commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone in Paris on on Monday.
Force India, the first Formula One team to race under an Indian licence even if they have never had an Indian driver, are Mallya’s private plaything although Sahara took a 42.5% stake last year.
Sahara, whose brand is prominent on the cars as title sponsor, have also been attracting negative business headlines after being ordered to refund money to investors.