Lotus Racing and Group Lotus have recently both issued press releases clarifying their position with regards to the use of the ‘brand’ that is Lotus in it’s various forms. Lotus Racing, the 2010 F1 team headed by Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes have recently announced that they have purchased Team Lotus Ventures Ltd and with it the right to use the name ‘Team Lotus’ next year. Group Lotus’s parent company Proton (a current sponsor of the Lotus Racing F1 team) have announced that they “will support Group Lotus in taking all necessary steps to protect its rights in the “Lotus” name, including resisting any attempts by Mr. Fernandes or his companies, or any other unauthorised person, to use the “Lotus” name in the 2011 Formula 1 season.”
Group Lotus and Lotus Racing started the year working together on certain projects. We attended a day at Snetterton with Jarno Trulli driving Group Lotus road cars and offering his advice and opinion to the bevy of Group Lotus engineers in attendance. It appears now that the 2 companies are going to be fighting it out in court as Lotus Racing have issued proceedings against Group Lotus in the English High Court to attain a declaration that they are ‘Team Lotus’ as far as F1 is concerned. Lotus Racing CEO Riad Asmat is pretty clear that they’re not happy with Group Lotus in the press release stating that they believe their reaction to the 2 companies relationship is ‘odd’ and that they reject Group Lotus’s reasons for cancelling the licence contract which allowed use of ‘Lotus Racing’ in 2010.
Group Lotus have recently upped their motorsport involvement, appointing Claudio Berro as Director of Motosport and Gino Rosato as Vice President of Corporate Affairs, becoming involved with the sponsorship of the Takumo Sato Indycar run by Kevin Kalkhoven, co-owner of Cosworth and more recently announcing a partnership with ART Grand Prix run by Frédéric Vasseur and Nicolas Todt, son of former Ferrari CEO and current FIA President Jean Todt in GP2 and GP3, the former of which is an F1 feeder series. This latest development again sends Group Lotus into direct competition with Fernandes who recently also announced that his Air Asia company will be entering the GP2 series in 2011.
To add further fuel to the speculation, Group Lotus CEO Dany Bahar arrived at the company in 2009 with significant backing from unknown sources. In the last decade, through the good times Proton have been reluctant to spend hundreds of millions on Group Lotus so where is it from if not from them? Red Bull CEO Dietrich Mateschitz has expressed desire to own a road car company to compliment his F1 teams and has had Torro Rosso up for sale for the last 2 years, perhaps there could be a future Group Lotus F1 team wanting to use the name ‘Team Lotus’ already on the grid? More recently speculation has seen Toyota linked to an F1 team, thought to be Lotus Racing but this may have been Group Lotus who recently announced closer links with Toyota for the road car company and Lotus Racing seem to have decided to take an early exit from their Cosworth deal to move to Renault supplied engines. Proton recently announced on the 24th September that the company wasn’t for sale, but that was 4 days ago and time moves on.
Who knows? 2011 could see 4 ‘Lotus’ cars on the grid, ‘Team Lotus’ vs. Group Lotus or ‘Team Lotus’ vs. Lotus Racing depending on the decision of the courts and negotiations. One thing is looking more and more certain, and that’s that they won’t be friends.
Expect big things at the Paris Motorshow this Thursday, we’ll be there reporting from the Press Conference, stay tuned!