26 September 2009
Lotus progressing towards December goal.
Formula One's newest team principal - Renault stand-in Bob Bell aside - has revealed that his first car should be completed shortly before Christmas, having been started even before an entry was confirmed by the FIA.
Lotus F1's Tony Fernandes confirmed that, with key details now inked, work was well underway at the team's interim base in Norfolk, with the first car hopefully on course to hit the track at the start of the 2010 testing window.
"The car is going through wind tunnel tests and we are scaling up rapidly," the Malaysian revealed to the official F1 website, "We should have a physical car ready in late December, the engine will be Cosworth, and we will be ready for testing in January - like everybody else.
"I took a big gamble because we started to build the car before we had the slot. Had we not been given the slot, I would have ended up with some very nice pictures - very expensive, computer graphic pictures. But life is a gamble. You have certain shots in life - either you grab them or you try to be risk averse and wait forever. I decided to take the chance, and the risk paid off. Maybe the risk paid off because people like Bernie [Ecclestone] or Max [Mosley] saw our passion - and maybe saw something different. Maybe they fell for the idea that you have to have teams outside of Europe.
"I saw a tremendous amount of assets Malaysia had built up in F1 over the last five years and then I found Proton and Lotus - which to me seems to be a marriage made in heaven. To others, this might sound odd and difficult but, when you see the brand being rolled out, you will see that the heritage will be very much protected. I had a fantastic meeting with Clive and Hazel Chapman at Goodwood on Sunday - and we got a car from them, Ayrton Senna's car that took the last race win by Lotus. We feel very obliged to build on that heritage."
Fernandes admitted that it would not be cheap to return the Lotus name to the grid, but was confident that Malaysia would get behind the effort financially.
"We are estimating that to get the car on the grid will cost us between £20-30m, which will be equity financed by the shareholders, and we estimate the running costs of the team to be around £55 million," he reported, "That will be the bottom end of the budgets, but I keep telling people that it's not about money, but all about having the right people and being smart - as Vijay [Mallya] has shown. This budget will come through sponsorship and obviously there are a lot of Malaysian sponsors now who want to get involved. We will raise that money.
"Yes, it is a costly thing - but good things cost. I started my [Air Asia] airline with two planes and built it up to 82 planes - and now it's a wonderful brand. My saying is that you pay for what you get. F1 reaches enormous audiences, motivating enormous masses of people. There are not many sporting events that can create that, so the bottom line is that you pay for what you get. If you are successful, the rewards will be 50 times more then the investment. The question is if we will be successful - that's on everybody's mind. I started my airline with $250,000 and everyone said 'he's nuts and mad', so I got used to these kind of notions. I think we will have a good run and, in years to come, we will slowly build ourselves up."
Despite initial speculation that the Malaysian government was also poised to back the team, Fernandes confirmed that that was not going to be the case, with local media reports suggesting that, instead, private investors will put in around $47.5m a year, with sponsorship expected to make up the difference.
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