The embarrassing ongoing naming row between Group Lotus and Team Lotus will return to court in March, High Court Judge Mr. Justice Peter Smith has decided today (Monday) – but he urged both sides to try to settle their differences before the matter gets that far.
The two warring Lotus factions appeared before the High Court in London after Group Lotus' new CEO Dany Bahar had sought a summary judgement against Team Lotus to prevent the case from going to full trial, but that request was rejected by Mr. Peter Justice Smith.
The judge deemed, moreover, that to delay the trial until the end of the F1 2011 campaign – as had been widely anticipated – would be to allow the damaging dispute to persist for far too long, and so a date of 21 March was agreed, just over a week after the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir. Such a procedure would likely last two weeks.
Tony Fernandes contends that Group Lotus illegally terminated the five-year branding licence it had granted his 1Malaysia Racing Team four years early in late 2010, the outfit's maiden campaign in the top flight during which it ran as Lotus Racing – ostensibly because the ultra-ambitious Bahar wanted to leap onto the bandwagon of the massive resurgence of interest in Lotus and use the name for Group Lotus' own F1 foray with Renault, a team that he considered to be a better and more competitive vehicle for the company's promotion.
In an effort to preserve his investment in the sport, Fernandes subsequently purchased the rights to use the iconic 'Team Lotus' moniker from David Hunt – brother of the late 1976 F1 World Champion James Hunt – but Group Lotus' owner Proton argues the rights were never Hunt's to sell in the first place, despite the Englishman having acquired them following the financial collapse of the original team in 1994.
Whilst Fernandes is pursuing Group Lotus for breach-of-contract, Bahar insists the organisation was entirely within its rights to end the agreement since the AirAsia founder had himself transgressed the terms of their deal on a count that Team Lotus CEO Riad Asmat has dismissed as 'trivial'. Cue the ensuing loggerheads and litigious lawsuits that even former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir Mohammed has proven unable to quell.
The lack of resolution means that barring a pre-season out-of-court settlement – which, given both sides' heavily-entrenched standpoints, appears somewhat wishful thinking – there will be four Renault-powered Lotus cars on the Sakhir starting grid in mid-March, run by two different teams.
“Team Lotus will be buoyed by this news,” evaluated Mark Daniels, an intellectual property lawyer at Browne Jacobson, “but it remains far from clear as to whether its claim will ultimately be successful. The barrier for a claim overcoming summary dismissal is not that great.
“Today, the court impressed on the parties that they should seek to settle the dispute before the season begins. If they fail to settle the matter, it will proceed to trial on 21 March. There are sure to be a few more twists-and-turns in this particular race.”
Whoever said F1 was boring..?