Robert Fernley, closely associated with Vijay Mallya, held his position with the Silverstone team from its debut as Force India in 2008 until its assets were purchased by Lawrence Stroll in 2018, and rebranded to Racing Point.
Originally from Stockport, Fernley’s first association with F1 came through the Ensign team in the early 1980s, assisting his good friend Jim Crawford to claim the 1982 British championship title.
The duo later transitioned to the CanAm series, with Crawford taking second place in 1983 and 1984 in an adapted Ensign.
During the 1980s, Fernley also participated in IndyCar initiatives, including managing the Canadian Tire team with Jacques Villeneuve Sr, and Ed Pimm’s Mike Curb entry for the 1986 Indianapolis 500.
After a long period away from racing, Fernley worked on diverse projects, one of which included introducing carbon fiber technology to the Chinese space program, another involved the Danish fishing industry, and he also had some involvement in the hotel industry.
His close relationship with Mallya eventually drew him back to international motorsport after the Indian tycoon purchased the ex-Spyker team in late 2007.
In practice, Fernley functioned as Mallya’s eyes and ears at the racetrack and within the Silverstone factory. He was mainly in charge of the team’s interactions with the FIA, Formula 1 organization, and the press.
Force India had a modest beginning, finishing 10th in the world championship in their inaugural season with Ferrari power in 2008, before transitioning to a partnership with Mercedes the next year. Giancarlo Fisichella’s pole position at the 2009 Belgian GP and his second-place finish in the race were early victories.
Photo by: Sutton Images – Bernie Ecclestone (GBR) F1 Supremo in discussion with Robert Fernley (GBR) Force India F1 team principal.
Over the decade of its existence, the team was driven by Tonio Liuzzi, Adrian Sutil, Paul di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez, Esteban Ocon, and George Russell conducted his early F1 tests and FP1 runs with the team.
Fernley, together with COO Otmar Szafnauer, steadily guided the team to success, achieving more with lesser budgets than their competitors. They secured a fifth-place finish in 2015 and fourth in 2016 and 2017.
However, financial troubles began to mount, exacerbated by Mallya’s legal woes in India, leading the team to a crisis in the summer of 2018.
During the summer break after the Hungarian GP, as the team entered administration, Stroll purchased its assets and rechristened it as Racing Point. At this juncture, Fernley’s involvement concluded.
In 2019, Fernley returned to Indianapolis unexpectedly, hired by McLaren to oversee its 500 entry with Fernando Alonso. Unfortunately, the venture proved unsuccessful, with the Spanish driver failing to qualify.
Fernley subsequently took over as the head of the FIA’s single-seater commission, succeeding Stefano Domenicali. He was replaced by ex-F1 team boss Giancarlo Minardi in 2022.
In addition, Fernley played a crucial role in fostering young engineering talent via a partnership with the National Centre for F1 Flow Engineering at the University of Bolton. In 2019, he was awarded an honorary doctorate for his contributions to engineering by the university.
With the assistance of students, Fernley also operated a 1981 Ensign N180B in historical events. Among the drivers was three-time F1 race winner Johnny Herbert.
Upon hearing of Fernley’s death, current Alpine F1 team principal Szafnauer expressed his sorrow and paid tribute to his former colleague.
Bob Fernley, Deputy Team Principal, Force India, during the team principals Press Conference. Photo by: Alastair Staley / F1 Flow Images
Expressing his shock, the American said, “I was saddened to hear the news from Vijay, and my heartfelt condolences go out to his family.”
“When Vijay was unable to be physically present with the team due to his business and IPL commitments, Bob was always there to guide us according to Vijay’s preferences in certain situations, which was invaluable.
“He enabled the rest of the organization to concentrate on racing, improving the car, recruiting the team, while he dealt with all the politics. That was undoubtedly his most significant role and contribution.
“He was still a relatively young man, and I’m shocked. Our racing community has lost a great individual.”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Robert Fernley
Who was Robert Fernley?
Robert Fernley was the former Force India F1 Chief who held the role at the Silverstone team from 2008 until its rebranding as Racing Point in 2018.
What were his contributions to motorsport?
Fernley played a vital role in managing the team’s dealings with the FIA, Formula 1 organization, and the media. He guided Force India to steady progress and notable achievements, securing fourth place in the World Championship in 2016 and 2017.
What other involvement did Fernley have in racing?
Aside from Formula 1, Fernley had a background in various racing series. He worked with the Ensign team in the early 1980s, participated in the CanAm series, and was involved in IndyCar efforts. He also oversaw McLaren’s 500 entry in 2019.
What other ventures was Fernley associated with?
Fernley had diverse interests outside of racing, including projects related to carbonfibre technology in the Chinese space program and the Danish fishing industry. He was also involved in the hotel business.
How did Fernley’s association with Force India end?
Due to financial difficulties and legal problems faced by team owner Vijay Mallya, Force India went into administration in 2018. The assets were acquired by Lawrence Stroll, and the team was rebranded as Racing Point, resulting in the end of Fernley’s involvement.