11 November 2010
Hunt dismisses Proton, Group Lotus claims
David Hunt, erstwhile owner of Team Lotus, beleives Proton doesn't have a leg to stand on in the battle over naming rights with Tony Fernandes.
David Hunt has finally broken his silence on the increasingly fraught power struggle over use of the Team Lotus name, and comes down firmly on the side of Tony Fernandes who, he insists, has the legal right to use the famous brand and all its assets - even if it appears that they may be ready to give them up.
Speaking to Peter Windsor - whom Fernandes looked set to be up against as a new F1 team owner until the collapse of the USF1 project - Hunt explained the 16 years that he had been the owner of the Team Lotus legacy, and claimed that the Proton-owned Group Lotus had - and never had - any right to use the name. Instead, he insists that, having fielded the team in its last two grands prix, in 1994, he made several attempts to resurrect Lotus as an F1 entity - including proposing a deal with Proton - only to come up short until his dealings with Fernandes this season.
The announcement that Lotus Racing would morph into Team Lotus for 2011, meanwhile, has sparked a furore, with Proton and Group Lotus insisting, amid threats of legal action, that Fernandes has no right to use a brand it believes is theirs. 'Fed up with so much confusion generated by the misguided and ill-informed comment from bloggers and journalists', however, Hunt decided that, on a chance call from Windsor, that it was time to 'help everyone have a clearer picture by putting the record straight', starting with the untruths he believes are being used as propaganda by the Malaysian manufacturer.
"I was infuriated by [the Proton claims], because I view it as libel," he admitted, "They're basically saying that I have been lying for the past 16 years.
"All these claims are complete nonsense. If Team Lotus was under common ownership and control, how come the Chapman family sold it to Peter Collins in 1991? Why were Group Lotus a third-party sponsor of the Lotus F1 cars during Collins's tenure? And why did they stand by while the administrators then sold it to me and my partner in a sale that was completely under the jurisdiction of the British High Court?
"For the first couple of months after we purchased it, rumours were being spread that we didn't own the name Team Lotus. This was obviously a concern to Group Lotus and a potential nuisance to us, so Group decided to clarify the issue by writing to us - and apparently everybody else they could think of who might have had some interest in the Team Lotus property, including the Chapman family and Peter Collins. They asked anyone who thought they had an ownership claim to set it out in writing.
"The only respondents were us, and our lawyers set out the rights we had acquired in full to Group Lotus. Group then thanked us and gave everyone on the list a second chance to comment and then invited us to a meeting so that we could start working together – them as Group and us as Team, just as it had been in the Chapman and Collins eras before. At no point did Group say that they felt they themselves had any claim on any Team Lotus property and, as far as I'm aware, from that date until the day after the Singapore Grand Prix this year, they have never suggested that we did not own Team Lotus. So for Group now to claim that they've always owned Team Lotus is pure fantasy.
"Beyond that, we did two races at the end of 1994 – Japan and Australia – under our own ownership and control, so that part of the Group statement is completely untrue as well. We even gave Mika Salo his first F1 race, for Pete's sake! The truth is that Group Lotus has never competed in F1, never built an F1 car and never owned Team Lotus. They've always been separate companies – as is common practice in F1, as well as being common sense. Colin Chapman always wanted to protect Lotus Cars from the insurance and accident problems that can affect a race team."
Hunt admitted that his ownership appeared to sit comfortably with the separate Group Lotus until the time that the Norfolk-based sportscar manufacturer was acquired by the ambitious Proton organisation.
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