Lotus Renault GP chairman Gérard Lopez has accused Tony Fernandes of prolonging the damaging Lotus naming dispute purely for financial reasons – insisting that 'we've never twisted things in any form or fashion' and asserting that 'there's only one Lotus car company...anything else is a bunch of bullsh*t'.
The ongoing row between Group Lotus – title sponsors of Lotus Renault GP, formerly Renault F1 – and Fernandes' Team Lotus hit the High Court last week, where the former's bid for a summary judgement to be passed down was rejected and a trial date set for 21 March.
The disagreement is over the right to use the Lotus name in F1, and to say that it is a tad complicated would be an understatement. Fernandes' 1Malaysia Racing Team competed in the top flight last season under the banner of Lotus Racing, having been granted a licence to use the name by Proton, owners of Group Lotus.
However, following Group Lotus' appointment of the ultra-ambitious Dany Bahar as its new CEO and the Turkish businessman's desire to promote the brand through motorsport – allied to witnessing the tremendous wealth of renewed support for Lotus around the globe that Fernandes' gallant efforts had generated – that licence was suddenly rescinded, four years early, the AirAsia founder contends.
Sensing that the rug was being pulled out from underneath his feet and in order to protect his investment in F1, Fernandes swiftly snapped up the rights to the iconic Team Lotus moniker from David Hunt, brother of late 1976 world champion James Hunt – only Proton argues that the rights were never Hunt's to sell, cue the ensuing and embarrassing stand-off.
With no resolution in sight and both sides firmly entrenched, the sport's fans will be faced with the confusing situation of two Renault-powered Lotus teams on the starting grid for the Bahrain Grand Prix curtain-raiser at Sakhir next month.
However, Genii Capital owner Lopez claims that far from being sentiment or branding-related, the chief stumbling-block is that Fernandes is unwilling to risk losing money by sacrificing his team's current identity, a move that would preclude Team Lotus from the prize fund it might stand to benefit from for twice finishing inside the top ten in the constructors' rankings in successive campaigns, as a change of name would effectively force the squad to re-register again from scratch.
“I think it's a shame, and it's a shame for the brand also,” the Luxembourg-based businessman is quoted as having said by SPEED TV
. “I'm actually a big fan of the brand. What I don't like – and I have dealt with the press for many years, not only in F1 but also in business – [is that] you've got to call a spade a spade.
“I can tell when somebody is trying to twist things. It's a shame, because we've never twisted things in any form or fashion; we've just said that we have a partnership. Lotus is a straight car company. They want to promote their brand, and honestly there's only one Lotus car company – anything else is a bunch of bullsh*t.