With this team the name Lotus, which has been absent in Formula One for the past sixteen years, will return to the Grand Prix circuits. The original Lotus team was active from 1958 until 1994, and was led by the legendary Colin Chapman who died in 1982. During that period Lotus scored 73 wins, 102 pole positions, and clinched six Drivers’ Championships and seven Constructors’ Championships in 489 races. Lotus employed many of the great Formula One drivers of those days: Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Stirling Moss, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jochen Rindt, Mario Andretti, Ronnie Peterson, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna.
However, the people behind the new Lotus team, feel it is a 100 percent Malaysian enterprise, and except for the name, has no ties with the old British Lotus team or the car manufacturer. The team is currently based at the RTN (Racing Technologies Norfolk) facility at Hingham in Norfolk, Great Britain, but there are plans to move the team’s facilities to Malaysia.
The new team was setup by Malaysian entrepreneur and AirAsia airline owner Tony Fernandes in September last year, and has the support of the Malaysian government. But it must be said, Lotus doesn’t get any financial support of the government, most of their sponsor monies come from the Malaysian private sector.
Fernandes’ airline, together with its Indonesian and Thai affiliates, now operates 82 new Airbus A320s and flies to more than 65 destinations in Asia from hubs in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. The company employs almost 7,000 staff and has carried more than 75 million guests in its short history.
The team’s management is complemented with CEO Riad Asmat (MAL), who is an expert in motorsports and public relations, Head of Operations Mia Sharizman Ismail (MAL), Chief Operating Officer Keith Saunt (GB) and General Manager Paul Graig (GB).
Technical director Mike Gascoyne has more than two decades of experience in Formula One. He has studied fluid dynamics at Cambridge University, and joined the McLaren team in 1989. After that he worked together with Tyrrell’s famous designer Harvey Postlethwaite, and in the early 1990s he joined the Sauber team as head of aerodynamics.
In 1993 he returned to Tyrrell until the team’s demise in 1998. At the end of that same year he joined Jordan and in 2000 he moved to Benetton, which would later become Renault F1. From 2004 to 2006 he worked for the Toyota team, and after that for Spyker and Force India.
Lotus has signed up experienced driver, Italian Jarno Trulli, and young Finnish driver Heikki Kovalainen. Both drivers only won one Grand Prix in their respective careers, Trulli won the Monaco Grand Prix in 2004, and Kovalainen won the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2008. Trulli has also worked with technical director Mike Gascoyne at Jordan, Renault and Toyota.
The team also has adopted a young driver programme and head of the driver programme in Asia is former Formula One driver Alex Yoong, and for Europe Nino Judge, the team principal of the UK based Litespeed Formula Three team.
At the end of 2009 preparations for the new car were well on their way, a scale model of the car was tested at the Aerolab facility in Italy, and the team had also tested the new chassis. In November the Lotus chassis passed the FIA-standard side impact and nose box crash tests.
However, a complete functioning car hasn’t been presented by the team. There are pictures of wind tunnel testing on the Lotus website, but those pictures show a scale model, and not a full sized car. Gascoyne has recently confirmed the car will not be ready for testing on February 1st at Valencia, but will instead participate in the third series of testing at Jerez later that month.