NOVEMBER 8, 1999
Lotus and Malaysia
OVER the weekend Malaysian newspapers ran stories suggesting that there is a convoluted deal going on which will see Lotus Engineering becoming involved in Grand Prix racing once again. Lotus is currently owned by the Malaysian government car company Proton. This has been struggling in recent years and for some months we have been hearing that in order to save the company the government is going to sell it to cash-rich Petronas, the government oil company. This will save face. Petronas is, of course, the primary sponsor of the Sauber team and pays for the supply of Ferrari engines which are then called Sauber Petronas V10s. This is a very expensive arrangement, costing an estimated $20m and results have been less than impressive.
According to the reports in Malaysia, Petronas will commission Lotus Engineering to design and build Formula 1 engines at its headquarters in Britain as a first step towards reintroducing the Lotus name into Grand Prix racing. Whether this will involve Peter Sauber's operation in Switzerland or David Hunt, the man who owns the rights to the Lotus name in F1, remains to be seen. If Sauber was not willing to have his team renamed and moved to England - and all the signs are that he is not keen on the idea - Petronas might simply buy another existing team and build an operation in Britain.
It is worth noting that while Petronas and Sauber have a deal until the end of the 2000 season, the departure of Fritz Kaiser from Sauber will not have gone down well in Malaysia. It was Kaiser who first convinced Petronas to support Sauber, despite bids for the Malaysian money from a number of other F1 teams notably Jordan, Arrows and the now defunct Pacific Grand╩Prix.
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