Tony Fernandes has revealed that Group Lotus did
make an offer to settle the damaging ongoing Lotus naming row out-of-court, but he insists it was one that 'would have bankrupted us' – as he called for both sides to 'grow up', stop muck-spreading and bring an end to their 'petty' dispute.
The row over who should be allowed to run under the iconic Lotus banner in F1 2011 still shows no signs of reaching any sort of conclusion, with a trial date now set in London's High Court for 21 March. The stand-off centres around Group Lotus' termination of Fernandes' licence to use the 'Lotus Racing' name last year, and the AirAsia founder's subsequent purchase of the rights to revive the classic Team Lotus moniker from David Hunt, brother of Britain's late 1976 world champion James Hunt.
Proton-owned Group Lotus – which under the guidance of ambitious new CEO Dany Bahar has taken the plunge into F1 itself with title sponsorship of Renault this season – contends that the rights were never Hunt's to sell in the first place, and that there is only one rightful Lotus entry in the field, denigrating Fernandes' operation as a fake. The Malaysian entrepreneur, for his part, is adamant that for Group Lotus to rescind his licence four years early was unlawful.
The tit-for-tat spat – one that has done F1, it should be noted, few favours – has seen both sides hit out at each other through the media, with the most recent outburst made by Lotus Renault GP chairman Gérard Lopez, who accused Fernandes of 'trying to twist things' by pretending the battle is not about money and suggested any attempts to paint the new Team Lotus as the true Lotus effort are 'a bunch of bullsh*t' [see separate story – click here
Fernandes himself argues that it is about time the bullsh*t stopped, and whilst acknowledging Bahar's assertion that an offer was
made to resolve the disagreement, the 46-year-old describes it as little more of an insult, with reports hinting at a figure of under $10 million, far less than would potentially be lost in terms of prize money by an enforced name change.
“If he (Lopez) expects me to give away Team Lotus and bankrupt this team, that's a crazy thought,” he railed, speaking to the Norwich Advertiser
. “I looked at an offer, with the best of gentlemanly conduct, and I considered doing a deal, but the one they (Group Lotus) offered me would have bankrupted us, which is obviously something I've no intention of doing as I've worked hard to build it.
“As I saw Dany Bahar doing his best to unravel a good relationship with Proton, I decided my investment and 250 jobs were in jeopardy, so we bought the name from David Hunt. I would much rather we remained as Lotus Racing, but I had no choice because my licence was terminated, would you believe over nothing more than some T-shirts. We spent £80million, and yet they (Group Lotus) said we didn't have approval for some T-shirts. It's a laughing matter.
“It's petty. I think we should all grow up and let the courts decide, and at the end of the day we honour the courts. I said I didn't want to say anything anymore, but they keep making statements. I can't just say silent.”
Meanwhile, Fernandes has been awarded a CBE by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 'for services to promote commercial and educational links' between the UK and Malaysia. With a philosophy to 'serve the under-served', amongst his major successes in business has been the dramatic turnaround of the loss-making AirAsia airline to become Asia's biggest low-cost carrier advertised by the slogan 'Now Everyone Can Fly', whilst he has already gained a wealth of support – and respect – in F1.
“I'm grateful to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for the honour,” he enthused, having previously been bestowed with France's Légion d'honneur
, the highest award for a non-French national, for his outstanding contributions to the aviation industry and having recently been named 'Asia Businessman of the Year 2010' by international magazine Forbes
“I realised my dream, and I am determined to help others realise theirs, too. [The CBE] is recognition of the hard work, determination and effort on the part of all my partners, colleagues and staff in AirAsia, Tune Group and Team Lotus. We have a terrific bunch of talented people working with us to make things happen in whatever venture we undertake. This is as much their award as it is mine.”