A battle for the rights to use the name Lotus in various forms of motor sport appears to be kicking off.
On the one side there is Group Lotus, helmed by former Red Bull and Ferrari marketing man Dany Bahar, and on the other there is Tony Fernandes, who acquired the rights to use the Lotus Racing name in F1 and has been negotiating for some months to get the Team Lotus identity from David Hunt, who has owned it with two investors since the end of 1994.
It’s been clear for some time that there have been tensions between Group Lotus and Lotus Racing. Since the F1 project started the former has expanded its interest in motor sport, firstly with Takuma Sato’s IRL entry, and latterly with its plan to build a millionaire’s ‘track day car’ using F1 technology.
Things have moved on again in the last couple of days. Firstly the GP2 organisers revealed that they had given a 2011 entry to an ‘Air Asia’ team, which logic suggested would be a Lotus junior project. However today Group Lotus announced that it has linked up with ART and will brand the latter’s GP2 and GP3 teams as Lotus. There is already a Fernandes-approved Lotus team in the Renault 3.5 series, run by Fairuz Fauzy.
The connections between Group Lotus and ART, co-owned by Nicolas Todt, are obvious. Aside from Bahar – brought to Ferrari by Jean Todt – the other two key people there are Serbian Miodrag Kotur and Canadian Gianni Rosato. Kotur was for many years Todt Sr’s right hand man at Maranello in a team co-ordinator role, while former Montreal hotel employee Rosato was Ferrari’s ‘Mr Fixit,’ often spotted performing a sort of bodyguard role for Michael Schumacher.
There is clearly a battle underway for the rights to use the Lotus and/or Team Lotus name in motor sport, and Malaysian politics must be playing a part, since Group Lotus is of course owned by Proton and Fernandes is one of the country’s highest profile businessmen. While there is no firm evidence that Group Lotus now wants to get involved in F1 it’s no secret where the ambitions of Todt Jr and ART lie.
Some reports suggest that a Group Lotus/ART/Toyota Cologne relationship is being discussed. Clearly what none of those parties have is an entry for 2011. Last year Max Mosley personally ensured that Fernandes got his ultra late entry for this season, and one assumes it would take similar intervention from the current FIA President to ensure a repeat for 2011 – if that really is the plan, given the tricky timescale. I wonder if anyone involved has his phone number…
This blog reported on July 12, just after the British GP, that Fernandes had pretty much completed his deal with Hunt. Intriguingly UK government documents from the Intellectual Property Office show that Group Lotus applied on July 15 to use the name Team Lotus in connection with a raft of activities, some of them way beyond motor sport, but mostly connected with the sort of souvenirs and memorabilia that you might associate with an F1 team.
On August 2 Hunt’s business, Team Lotus Ventures, also applied to use the name Team Lotus for similar activities.
The details can be found here: