Lotus Racing founder and team principal Tony Fernandes has branded the F1 establishment's failure to take the efforts of the 2010 newcomers seriously as 'snobbery' – but such disdain and underestimation, he insists, will only serve to 'motivate' him even more.
There has been much disparagement of Lotus and fellow new boys Virgin Racing and Hispania (HRT), the product of persistent reliability problems both during testing and the opening two grands prix in Bahrain and Australia – most notably for Virgin, who have yet to see the chequered flag at all, and whose fuel tank it has embarrassingly transpired is not large enough to reach the end of the race anyway. Other causes for concern have been HRT not completing so much as a single lap prior to the start of the season, and all three teams languishing at least four-to-five seconds shy of the leading pace.
Ferrari and BBC F1
pundit David Coulthard have been particularly scathing in their criticism of the grid's new arrivals, but Fernandes – whose Anglo/Malaysian, Proton-backed Lotus entry has been the most successful of the trio thus far, with Heikki Kovalainen finishing in Sakhir and Melbourne and the Finn and experienced team-mate Jarno Trulli both being classified in the desert kingdom, even though the latter broke down on the final lap – insists such denigration is wholly unjustified.
Not only did Lotus have the shortest timeframe of any of the newcomers in which to prepare for its debut, but it went on to overtake Virgin in the performance stakes Down Under, despite the early mantra being reliability over out-and-out raw speed, which Fernandes is adamant will come later. And though ambitions for the short-term at least remain modest, looking at the bigger picture, the AirAsia entrepreneur makes it very clear that he has success firmly in his sights.
“There is a bit of snobbery,” the Malaysian told the BBC
of the general attitude shown towards his team by F1's elite, “[but] it motivates me. We've always been underdogs, but we're keeping one eye open toward reaching the top. How many south-east Asian teams are on the grid? That is a victory.
“The Malaysians will be hoping we'll beat Virgin and Hispania – that's a realistic target. The realism is there, the pride is there – I feel it very strongly. If we're still last in three seasons we've wasted our time, [but] I'm quietly optimistic.
“The targets for the boys (Trulli and Kovalainen) are to finish all the races and [make Lotus] the best of the new teams. The eventual target is to be up there with Ferrari and McLaren.”