New Lotus F1 team manager Tony Fernandes believes a Malaysian-backed entry into Formula 1 is the next natural step for the nation to increase its involvement in the sport.

The iconic Norfolk-based manufacturer is destined to make a surprise return to the grid in 2010 having acquired the 13th and final position made available by BMW's withdrawal from the sport.

The project is being funded by the Malaysian government and a series of Malaysian organisations, including Lotus' parent company Proton Cars, and will be fronted by Fernandes, who successfully turned Air Asia into one of the continent's most prominent airlines.

Speaking to the New Zealand Herald newspaper, Fernandes is aware that Malaysia, which has hosted a grand prix at Sepang since 1999, has committed a lot of money and effort into Formula 1, but is yet to make an impact with 'drivers, engineers or management'.

"Malaysia has put a lot of money into F1, and it has a fantastic hardware - the Sepang track; universities with engineering courses; composite manufacture. But it doesn't have the soft side - drivers, engineers, management. I want to take that and build it up in F1.

"Proton owns Lotus Cars and they are great brands. Proton needs love and care, and I want to do with it what I did with Air Asia."

Nonetheless, Fernandes, whose Air Asia brand currently adorns the Williams F1 cars, isn't entirely motivated by commercial interests, insisting he is a fan himself and that 'the right passion' is necessary for the team to succeed.

"It's all about the right people, the right passion, the right energy," he says when asked whether disgraced former Renault boss Flavio Briatore would be welcomed. "I always look for hungry people, who really want to be with us."

"Do it because you love it, or don't be involved. Take underdeveloped marketing opportunities, monetise them, and bring back value to the community."

Meanwhile, Fernandes has told Reuters that he doesn't plan to remain at the helm of the team for much longer.

Explaining that he still has a commitment to Air Asia, he is planning to step down before the team's debut in Australia next season

"I am going to get it (the team) to a stage and then someone can do it full time, properly.

"My job is AirAsia and I just want to make sure that we (Lotus) have the right direction, the right imaging and the right future, the right strategic plan and marketing."


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