Di Resta is a huge asset, says Mallya

MONACO (Reuters) - Force India expect Paul Di Resta to stay with them next season but would be understanding if the highly-rated British Formula One driver wanted to move elsewhere, team owner Vijay Mallya said on Thursday.

Di Resta won the German touring car championship with Mercedes in 2010 and has been touted as a possible replacement at that team for Michael Schumacher should the 43-year-old seven times champion decide to call it a day.

Schumacher's contract expires at the end of 2012.

Di Resta has also been mentioned in media speculation as a candidate to take Felipe Massa's seat at Ferrari if they decide to drop the underperforming Brazilian.

"Paul is a huge asset and a very valuable asset to us. We have secure contracts with both him and Nico (Hulkenberg), and we have an excellent relationship with both," Mallya told Reuters at the Monaco Grand Prix.

"Should they ever want to think of going elsewhere I am sure they will come and tell us and it will be something that we will work out very amicably. I am not worried, there's no disruption that I anticipate at all.

"We'd love to continue with our current driver line-up (next season)," added the billionaire liquor and aviation tycoon, who said both men were under contract for 2013.

"In fact, I am reading everything in the press. Nobody has come and officially communicated anything to us."

Mercedes supply Force India with engines and that team's chief executive Nick Fry said this week: "Paul is on our radar.

"He has done a fantastic job, he's a nice guy, he's a great team player and he would be one of the drivers undoubtedly that, if Michael were to decide he didn't want to continue, we would look at," he told Sky Sports News.


Monaco, a social highlight of the F1 calendar and a place where many of the sport's big deals are brokered, is the first race Mallya has attended this year and the self-styled 'King of Good Times' was throwing a lavish party on his yacht Indian Empress later on Thursday.

That triggered questions in a news conference about how he could justify such expenditure at a time when his Kingfisher airline is lumbered with some $1.3 billion (830.4 million pounds) of debt.

"Justify what and to whom?" retorted the Indian parliamentarian who controls India's UB Holdings, part of the UB Group that owns a majority of United Spirits and United Breweries.

"I have 20 different businesses, six large publicly listed companies. Each one is completely independent, with different shareholders," he said.

"One does not cross-subsidise the other because that would violate all the principles of corporate governance. If one business for whatever reason is not doing well, does it mean that every other business has to shut down?"

Mallya said the Monaco party, one of the hottest tickets in town with drivers and team staff invited, was simply a promotion for United Spirits and had nothing to do with the airline.

He added that the Formula One team was in good financial health, despite paddock speculation to the contrary, as a joint venture with Sahara Group who have invested $100 million.

"The first tranche (of Sahara money) came in 2011, the second is due in 2012 and the third in 2013," he said. "The team is already well-funded with this equity infusion. I fail to understand why people make these wild connections.

"People seem to presume that my only business is Kingfisher airlines which is in trouble and therefore I am short of cash," he told Reuters.

Force India have scored 18 points in the first five races of the season, their best haul at such a stage, but are only eighth overall after rivals Sauber and Williams - who took their first win in eight years in Spain this month - did better.

Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado's win in Barcelona for Williams and Sergio Perez's second place for Sauber in Malaysia in March raised Mallya's hopes of a podium as well in the near future.

"Teams that were on par with us or slightly below us... are getting on the podium now. So why shouldn't Force India be on the podium," he said.

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