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Benetton buys Lotus!

Don't be taken in by the headlines. The absurdly-wealthy Benetton family from Italy has not taken over the remains of the Lotus F1 team, but they have bought their way into Lotus Cars.

The Benettons already own the Formula 1 team which bears their name and are understood to have a shareholding in the Ligier team, but to date their only involvement in the car industry has been through their 50% ownership of the Tom Walkinshaw Racing Group, which carries out automotive consultancy work for car manufacturers such as Volvo and General Motors (Australia).

Now the Benetton family has gone into partnership with another wealthy Italian group, the Bonomi family. The new partnership began in December last year when the two families formed the Ventuno International company. Last week this company agreed to pay $57 million to Bugatti International's owner Romano Artioli for Lotus Cars, which he bought from General Motors only 18 months ago.

The move is another major diversification for Benetton, which is still primarily a clothing group, despite recent purchases which include the Autogrill chain of Italian motorway restaurants and the Euromercato supermarket company.

The Bonomi family is involved in wine-producing, real estate, packaging and safety matches through its family holding company Istituto Finanziario e Industriale Nazionale.

The new bosses of Lotus say that the deal is purely a financial investment and unconnected with the Lotus F1 team - currently a very junior partner in an alliance with Pacific Grand Prix. However, it should not be forgotten that Tom Walkinshaw was very keen to get his hands on the Lotus F1 team last year. Those attempts to gain control of the company - with the help of Lotus directors Pete Hall and Guy Edwards - were fought off by the then Lotus management.

If Benetton now wanted to win control of Team Lotus - which would be a logical move if the family really wants to market Lotus road cars - it would not be too difficult. The company could quite easily buy back the Lotus name in racing by agreeing to pay the Chapman family (which owns the name), David Hunt (who has leased it) and Pacific Grand Prix (with which Hunt has a deal).

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