20 November 2009
Lotus: We're under pressure to perform – and we will
Lotus F1 chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne and acting team principal Tony Fernandes acknowledge the weight of expectation upon their shoulders from carrying such an iconic name in 2010 - but give the team time, they insist, and they will surprise...
Lotus F1 key figures Mike Gascoyne and Tony Fernandes have acknowledged that the 'special heritage' of the name means the 2010 newcomers will be under 'pressure to perform' right from the outset next year – but they insist the Malaysian-backed outfit is ultimately 'in it to win'.
Lotus will be one of at least four new teams – alongside Campos Meta, Manor Grand Prix, USF1 and quite possibly Qadbak-Sauber – on the starting grid next season, and the return of one of the iconic names in the sport's history, albeit now under Far Eastern rather than British ownership, carries with it a weight of expectation and responsibility. That is a fact that is far from lost on esteemed chief technical officer Gascoyne and acting team principal Fernandes, whose Air Asia low-budget airline company is helping to bankroll the challenge.
The last time the Lotus name was seen in the F1 field was back in 1994, a campaign that – an inspired fourth on the grid for Johnny Herbert at Monza aside – did little justice to the reputation of a marque that back in its 1960s and 1970s Team Lotus heyday had swept to six drivers' world titles and seven constructors' crowns, and employed some of the greatest stars in the sport's history, from Sir Stirling Moss and Jim Clark to Mario Andretti and Ayrton Senna.
Now, a decade-and-a-half on from the financial collapse that brought down the curtain on an incredible run spanning almost four decades, Lotus is back – under the ownership of Malaysian car giant Proton. Gascoyne contends that the new cost-cutting drive in F1 will favour the independent teams once more – giving him hope that David may yet live to slay Goliath as he used to do in years gone-by.
“F1 has changed over the last few years and is changing to reduce costs,” the respected former Jordan, Renault, Toyota and Force India design guru told BBC Sport. “Really, over the last ten years it had become a spending competition.
“Lotus and (founder) Colin Chapman were about engineering innovation. I think it is the right moment for Lotus to be coming back, because hopefully that's the way F1 is going to go. Small teams, being innovative and good engineering is really my background; that's what excites me about coming back to F1 with a new team, and that is how we want to work.
“We are very wary of the historic heritage and we want to support that. It is a very special heritage. Even the choice of colour is going to evoke enormous debate. We are trying to make sure we keep that heritage from a marketing and branding aspect. There is a pressure to perform and you feel it – Group Lotus want us to perform – but I think we will because of the quality of people we're attracting.”
For the time being at least, Lotus F1 will be based in the former home of the TOM's Toyota F3 operation and Bentley's Le Mans 24 Hours programme close to Hingham in Norfolk – the county from where Gascoyne hails and not a million miles from Lotus Cars' British headquarters – in a small, outdated industrial unit adorned by a number of classic Lotus cars, a world away from the state-of-the-art, high-tech factories of front-runners McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari.
That said, there is also a design office in the German city of Cologne and an aerodynamics facility in Bologna in Italy – and the intention is to eventually base the entire team in Malaysia, at the Sepang International Circuit on the outskirts of the capital Kuala Lumpur, whilst retaining a satellite HQ in the UK for logistical reasons. Lotus might have been the last of the four newcomers to be granted a slot on the 2010 grand prix grid following BMW's announcement of withdrawal, but there is no doubt that Gascoyne and Fernandes are serious about their venture indeed.
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