Only four days on from Tony Fernandes' joyful announcement that Lotus Racing will reprise the legendary 'Team Lotus' name from F1 2011 onwards, Proton has stepped in to spoil the party by declaring that the Malaysian entrepreneur 'has no rights to use the Lotus brand' and vowing to 'take all the necessary steps' to prevent him from doing so.
On Friday of the Singapore Grand Prix weekend, Fernandes described the transition as a 'dream come true' with the rebirth of one of the most iconic names in the sport's six-decade history [see separate story – click here
] – but Proton suggests he has spoken rather too soon.
Fernandes claimed to have acquired the rights to the 'Team Lotus' moniker from David Hunt, brother of the late 1976 F1 World Champion James Hunt, who had held them since the demise of the original team 16 years ago – but Proton argues the rights had never been Hunt's to sell in the first place.
The Malaysian manufacturer owns Group Lotus – which encompasses both Lotus Cars and Lotus Engineering – and has recently terminated the licence it had granted to Fernandes' 1 Malaysia Racing Team to compete as Lotus Racing due to what it describes as 'flagrant and persistent breaches of the licence' that were 'damaging to the Lotus brand'.
“We believe the Lotus brand to be one of the most valuable brands in F1 today,” said Proton chairman Nadzmi Salleh, according to Reuters
. “We are the owners of this brand, and will take all necessary steps to protect it. Tony Fernandes has no rights to use the Lotus brand in the 2011 F1 season, and we will strongly resist any attempts by him to use our brand without our permission and will withdraw our sponsorship of the Lotus Racing team.”
'Since 1994, David Hunt has claimed to have acquired assets of Team Lotus, including its name, from the liquidator,' added a Proton statement. 'He has never raced as Lotus. Mr. Hunt's attempt to acquire the name 'Team Lotus' was ineffective. Group Lotus is the owner of all rights in the Lotus automotive brand, including those relating to F1.'
During its original incarnation from its founding by the late, great Colin Chapman in 1958 to its eventual demise in 1994, Team Lotus claimed no fewer than 13 F1 World Championship crowns – six drivers' trophies and seven constructors' laurels – and employed the likes of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Sir Stirling Moss, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jochen Rindt, Mario Andretti, Ronnie Peterson, Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet.
Another clash of swords, meanwhile, could be brewing in the feeder GP2 Series, where Fernandes' Lotus Racing-affiliated Team AirAsia will go up against multiple champions ART Grand Prix, who recently announced backing from Lotus Cars.