SEPTEMBER 27, 2010
Group Lotus hits back at Fernandes
Tony Fernandes' Lotus Formula 1 team faces a possible legal action over its rebranding as "Team Lotus" heading into the 2011 F1 championship.
Lotus Racing announced over the Singapore GP weekend that it had acquired the rights to the "Team Lotus" name from the previous owner David Hunt, and that they would be rebranding the team under the name in preparation for next season.
On Monday morning the Proton car manufacturing company, which is the corporate parent of Group Lotus, which manufactures the Lotus street car, announced that it would take "all necessary steps" to protect its brand, and that Fernandes has no right to use the Team Lotus name next season.
Proton acquired 63% of Lotus Group Limited in 1996 for 40m pounds, and later in 2003 bought the company outright. Since it's initial purchase Proton has disputed David Hunt's rights to the Team Lotus name, as Hunt bought the rights to the Formula 1 team in 1994, as it struggled and dropped out of the sport.
Last year Fernandes' 1 Malaysia Racing Team made a one-year lease agreement with Group Lotus to use the "Lotus Racing" name in F1, and Proton now sees the acquisition of Hunt's company and the use of "Team Lotus" as a way to circumvent their ownership of the Lotus brand.
Group Lotus is run by CEO Danny Bahr, formerly involved with Red Bull and Ferrari in F1 - who many say has his own aspirations of running a Lotus F1 team.
Although all these groups have ties to the Malaysian government, there are many factions in Malaysian politics with differing goals, and much of the ensuing conflict may have its roots here.
Over the weekend, when asked about the ongoing conflict with Group Lotus, Tony Fernandes said, "I don't want to go into the legal side of it, but there were two separate companies and two very separate pools of goodwill. Of course they co-operated and of course we would like to co-operate but if Group Lotus doesn't want to then there's not much we can do about it. That's not to say that they won't, I think it makes sense, and maybe the ownership will come under one anyway in due time. So there was co-operation but there was never ownership and there was never racing by Group Lotus and vice versa, Team Lotus never manufactured cars."
And when asked about having Group Lotus involved with the team, Fernandes said, "The door is always open. It makes sense if they did. If I was sitting there and there was a Formula One team that's going around the world with twenty races, promoting a brand, if I was the CEO, I would definitely want to get involved, especially if I'm not putting any money in it."