On the day that Team Lotus meets Group Lotus in London's High Court, there has been yet another twist in the ongoing saga that has embarrassed and confused F1 in equal measure in the build-up to the 2011 World Championship campaign, with the revelation that David Hunt has now turned his back on Tony Fernandes in a row over payment for naming rights.
The High Court hearing is set to resolve whether or not both Lotus entries – Fernandes' Team Lotus and Lotus Renault GP, formerly Renault F1 – should be permitted to compete under such names. The argument of Group Lotus is that since it terminated Fernandes' contract to use the Lotus moniker four years early, the Malaysian entrepreneur is no longer entitled to run with the name; the argument of Fernandes is that Group Lotus' termination of the contract was unlawful.
Up until now, Hunt – brother of the late 1976 F1 World Champion James Hunt, and the man who purchased the original Team Lotus from the administrators after the legendary outfit financially collapsed back in 1994 – has been a staunch supporter of Fernandes', but now it emerges that the pair have become embroiled in a bitter dispute of their own.
In order to protect his investment as the man who had returned the Lotus brand to F1 to such popular acclaim last season under the Lotus Racing banner, Fernandes bought the rights to the Team Lotus name from Hunt after it became apparent that Group Lotus had F1 aspirations of their own, and the AirAsia founder correctly sensed that the rug was about to be pulled out from under his feet.
Only two months ago, Fernandes described Hunt as 'the most honourable man' in the whole row, but now the latter claims the former has reneged on the terms of their agreement struck in January regarding payment for the Team Lotus name – purportedly leading to Fernandes instructing his lawyers to pursue Hunt for defamation.
With Hunt alluding to 'potentially some serious holes' in Fernandes' case against Group Lotus, the Englishman is now refusing to back his former ally in court, and the civil war that has broken out behind-the-scenes at Team Lotus is threatening to undermine the entire trial.
“When we had to make the Team Lotus staff redundant in 1995, I made a promise to them and the fans to return it to F1 in the hands of a worthy custodian, and initially I had high hopes that Tony, Din and Nasa (Fernandes' business partners) were going to tick the boxes,” Hunt told Telegraph Sport
“What angers me is that I have, in good faith, worked extremely hard on the build-up to the hearing because I believed Tony would honour our January agreement. He's apparently 'changed his mind' at the eleventh hour, by his own admission, now that I've done so much work on his company's behalf, and he's trying to renegotiate by offering new terms which are, frankly, ludicrous.
“All I'm looking for is for Tony to stick to his word and honour our agreement. If he doesn't, then regrettably I don't see why I should continue to provide assistance and this trial won't be the last battle he's facing, even if he wins.”
There has as yet been no comment from Team Lotus.