The iconic Lotus name is to return to Formula 1 for the first time in 16 years in 2010, it has been revealed – as the FIA confirmed that the Malaysian-run entry has been granted the 13th slot on the starting grid next season, with the potential to expand the field to 14 teams.
Though racing under the banner of the Lotus F1 Team, the outfit will actually be operated by 1Malaysia F1 Team Sdn Bhd – a partnership between the Malaysian Government and a consortium of Malaysian entrepreneurs. To begin with, the team will be based at the RTN facility in Norfolk – a 50,000 sq ft fully-equipped facility just ten miles from the Lotus Cars factory, first built by Toyota for its F1 programme and subsequently employed by Bentley for its triumphant Le Mans effort in 2003. Following the initial phase, Team Lotus F1's design, R&D, manufacturing and technical centre will be purpose-built at the Sepang International Circuit, home to the annual Malaysian Grand Prix.
Team principal Tony Fernandes is the founder and CEO of the Malaysian-based Tune Group, owner of the Air Asia airline. The technical director, meanwhile, will be the esteemed Mike Gascoyne, a man with more than two decades of experience at the highest level from his time spent in similar roles at McLaren, Tyrrell, Sauber, Jordan, Renault, Toyota and Force India between 1989 and 2008. Like fellow newcomers USF1, Campos and Manor, Team Lotus F1 will use customer Cosworth powerplants.
Whilst Lotus is therefore set to return to the grid in the top flight for the first time since 1994, BMW looks likely to depart – unless the governing body is successful in implementing an initiative that could see the field expanded to 28 cars, the likes of which has not been seen in F1 for a decade-and-a-half.
'The FIA also received an impressive application from the BMW Sauber Team,' read an official statement. 'However, given that BMW has announced it will withdraw its support in 2010, there are still uncertainties regarding the future ownership of the team.
'Nevertheless, the FIA considers that BMW Sauber's application is of high quality and would constitute a competitive participant in the championship. As such, it has awarded BMW Sauber the '14th place' in the championship, meaning that it will be entitled to fill any vacancy that arises on the 2010 grid.
'In addition, the FIA believes that a good case can be made for expanding the grid to 14 teams. The FIA will be consulting urgently with the existing teams regarding the introduction of an appropriate rule change to expand the grid to 28 cars in time for the first grand prix in 2010.'
Between 1958 and 1994, the original Team Lotus achieved 73 grand prix wins, 102 pole positions, six drivers' world titles and seven constructors' crowns from 489 starts, with illustrious names of the calibre of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Sir Stirling Moss, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jochen Rindt, Mario Andretti, Ronnie Peterson, Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet and Mika Hakkinen all competing for the squad during their own F1 careers.