Whilst stressing his conviction that 'if we go to court, we will win', Tony Fernandes has promised that whatever happens in the ongoing naming wrangle between Lotus Racing, Proton and Renault in F1, he will not 'be involved in destroying the Lotus name' and will not drag one of the most iconic brands in automotive history 'through the gutter'.
For weeks now, there has been a very public row between Fernandes – founder and team principal of Lotus Racing, the best of the F1 2010 newcomers – and state-funded Malaysian manufacturer Proton, which owns Group Lotus and licensed the legendary name to the AirAsia founder this year.
The dispute arose after Fernandes announced his intention to bring the much-loved 'Team Lotus' moniker back into F1 from 2011, having bought the rights to the trademark from David Hunt, brother of the late 1976 world champion James Hunt – yet Proton contends that coming under the Group Lotus umbrella, the rights were never Hunt's to sell, but rather their own. Cue the revocation of Fernandes' licence to the Lotus name, and the current legal stand-off.
To muddy the waters further, it soon became apparent that the key reason behind Proton's opposition to Fernandes' plans was that, having witnessed the blaze of positive international publicity that the bold Lotus Racing endeavour has brought to Malaysia, it is keen to jump on the bandwagon with designs on an F1 involvement of its own.
French newspaper Le Figaro
predicts an imminent confirmation that the car maker is to purchase the remaining 25 per cent stake in the financially-struggling Renault F1 operation that is now owned in major part by Gérard Lopez's Genii Capital company, which interestingly has long-standing links outside of the sport with the Lotus Group.
That would leave the French manufacturer as purely an engine-supplier to a team that would likely be rebranded Lotus-Renault, as well as to reigning double world champions Red Bull Racing and Fernandes' squad.
It has been hinted that a deal could be announced today (Wednesday) that would see Group Lotus become the Enstone-based outfit's title sponsor in a €30 million-a-year agreement stretching over five seasons, ostensibly to be funded by the Malaysian taxpayer.
Renault President and CEO Carlos Ghosn has conceded only that 'we'll be there next year and in future seasons', although in what capacity remains unclear – and pointedly, the Brazilian did not rule out a name change for the team – whilst Lopez told Reuters
: “We are interested in Lotus as a car company. Is there something with the team to be done? We'll see.”
To add further intrigue, Lotus Racing concluded a deal last month to use Renault engines in 2011 and 2012 – and F1 clearly isn't big enough for two different Lotus-Renault teams in the field. Complicated, isn't it? And if that alone isn't enough, both Lotus Racing and Group Lotus will be represented in the feeder GP2 Series next year, the former running under the AirAsia banner and the latter in partnership with the ultra-successful ART Grand Prix, with the joint project to be known as Lotus-ART.