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SEPTEMBER 24, 2010

Fernandes claims Team Lotus moniker

Lotus Racing will race under the iconic Team Lotus banner in 2011 after team boss Tony Fernandes completed a deal to buy the rights to the name from David Hunt, brother of the late 1976 world champion James.

This year, Lotus Racing has operated under a licence from Group Lotus, which is the road car division owned by Malaysian company Proton, but Fernandes said in Singapore: "The whole aim was to own our future rather than operate under a licence. For next year we will not operate under Lotus Racing but the Team Lotus banner. It will bring history full circle and we will operate as Team Lotus, as Colin Chapman did."

Hunt became involved with the failed attempts to save the original Team Lotus, originally founded by Chapman, which closed its doors through lack of funding in early 1995. As a result of a cash injection then, along with investors, he has owned the rights to the Team Lotus name ever since.

Hunt said in Singapore: "I'm delighted that this day has finally arrived. In January 1995, when I had the simply awful task of making the loyal Team Lotus personnel redundant, I promised them, the fans and the media that somehow we would return Team Lotus to F1 in good order and properly funded. We had no idea of the huge difficulties we would have to overcome when I made that statement.

"Nevertheless, I simply would not allow the legacy of Colin Chapman's extraordinary achievements to die. The custodianship of the iconic brand and history now passes from me to Tony (Fernandes), Kamarudin (Maranun, boss of the Tune Group) and Nasa (Lotus Racing shareholder). I am confident I am handing over to a team that has the financial resources, passion, energy, vision and long-term commitment to give Team Lotus the best possible chance of returning to the sharp end of the grid. I look forward to assisting the team towards scoring Team Lotus's 80th Grand Prix win - that will be the day when all the effort of the past 15 years will finally seem worthwhile."

It is believed that a deal has been done that will see Lotus retain its current driver Jarno Trulli/Heikki Kovalainen line-up and use a Renault engine, drive train and KERS system in 2011, although Fernandes said in Singapore that such announcements would be made 'step-by-step at the appropriate time.'

Confusingly, Group Lotus simultaneously seems to be expanding its racing activity. As well as a link-up with Takuma Sato's IRL entry, it has recently been announced that the ART GP2 and GP3 teams, part-owned by Nicolas Todt, son of FIA president, Jean, will henceforth be branded Lotus. ART also lodged an F1 entry earlier this year but later withdrew it, citing lack of time to build the necessary infrastructure. Recently, however, there has been talk of a link-up with the defunct Toyota F1 operation in Cologne.

Clearly Lotus, with its heritage, is a potentially valuable brand and, interestingly, F1 journalist Adam Cooper reported recently in his blog that both Group Lotus in July and Team Lotus Ventures (the Hunt company acquired by Fernandes) in August, have applied to the UK Intellectual Property Office to use the Team Lotus name for various activities, including merchandising.

Fernandes' Singapore announcement was notable for its use of the term 'good will', and its applicability to English law, and it has been noticeable this year that Lotus Racing has embraced Clive and Hazel Chapman and conducted a number of events sympathetic to the team's heritage.

Fernandes is also currently making distinctions between Group Lotus being a road car producer with no racing heritage and Team Lotus being a racing team that doesn't build road cars. It seems as if a protracted legal wrangle could well be in the offing with valuable merchandising rights going to the victor...