Lotus: edging forward in black and gold
DECEMBER 14, 2011
More than 40 journalists from the motor industry and motor racing sat round a long table on Monday for an end-of-year lunch with Dany Bahar, the CEO of Group Lotus. This was the second such gathering and, truth be told, some of us didn't expect Group Lotus to get this far.
Bahar's grand plans for the road car company and its involvement with motor sport on several fronts, headlined by the link with Renault in F1, had been greeted 12 months ago with a certain amount of scepticism on both sides of the automotive divide.
If industry insiders found plans to build at least four new road cars ambitious, they were even more doubtful about the funding and the promises issuing from the then 39-year-old Bahar, who had taken charge in September 2009.
Meanwhile, their motorsport counterparts - me, included - were perplexed by the unseemly row with Team Lotus over the right to use the car maker's name and that famous yellow monogramme symbol.
To make matters worse from a purist's point of view, Group Lotus had attempted what appeared to be a desperate move to counteract the Team Lotus use of the green and yellow colours by spraying the Renault black and gold. This may have been a striking reminder of turbocharged Senna JPS days but it was hardly redolent with the memories of the team's long and distinguished history.
Against this heritage stretching back to the first Grand Prix for Lotus in 1958, it is perhaps appropriate that 12 months in motor sport is a very short time. Team Lotus, as we had got to know it during the past two years, has now disappeared, along with the emotional claim from Tony Fernandes that Lotus coursed through his veins, the team boss clearly suffering in recent months from a main artery blocked by fatty fiscal tissue and other necessary bypass issues we may come to learn about in the future. Meanwhile, over at Enstone, Renault will simply be known as Lotus. If nothing else, the unnecessary confusion and bitterness is at an end.
The thing that struck me about the quietly-spoken Bahar on Monday was the absence of triumphalism and claiming of the high moral ground. It was a case of dealing with an unfortunate diversion no one needed and moving on to focus 100 per cent on what really matters. "We are not Team Lotus," said Bahar. "It's part of our corporate history; we're not buying a name." To prove it, the 2012 Lotus will remain black and gold. This is where the automotive side of Group Lotus comes in.
Claudio Berro, the Director of Lotus Motorsport (and, like Bahar, an ex-Ferrari man) sympathised with my view that Lotus was green and yellow - end of. With great charm he gently pointed out that my opinion was that of, er, an older generation. It seems that black and gold actually means more to the man on the street (and therefore prospective purchasers) as a symbol of Lotus than the original green (introduced originally to comply with the national racing colour of Great Britain) with the distinctive yellow stripe to separate a Lotus from a BRM or a Cooper on the starting grid.
Bahar is interested in taking the team to the next step and edge towards victory. "The decision we took was to bring the team to the next level, to restructure the team, bring in new technical talent and an experienced driver, not to go after pay drivers any more or look for the highest bidder any more," said Bahar. Which is where Kimi Raikkonen comes in to replace Vitaly Petrov.
This is not the moment to discuss whether or not Raikkonen is capable of doing the job any more than it is appropriate at this juncture to ask whether the current technical department at Enstone can produce the goods the Finn will need to maintain his motivation. Time will tell.
For now, it is prudent to acknowledge the continuation of Bahar's bold mission in association with what he describes as a partnership with Genii, shareholders in the former Renault team.
The lunch was held in the RAC Club ('tailored business suits, together with collared shirt and tie at all times. Cravats not permitted') in London's Pall Mall. Sitting proudly on the long dining table in the Committee Room was the magnificent permanent trophy presented each year to the winner of the British GP (formerly known, with a couple of exceptions, as the 'RAC British Grand Prix' between 1948 and 1971).
The cup has been lifted by Lotus drivers Jim Clark (five times), Jo Siffert (private entry in 1968) and Jochen Rindt (1970), Emerson Fittipaldi being the last Lotus driver to enjoy the privilege back in 1972.
Bahar and his team to want to see Lotus savour victory at home once more. It is an admirable ambition. Beyond that, you cannot say. Except that it is more than some of us would have said 12 months ago.
Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.
His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.