Team Lotus will go into this weekend's Australian Grand Prix with the full support of David Hunt, despite the Briton having supposedly turned his back on the squad at the start of this week's legal hearing into use of the Lotus name.
Hunt, the younger brother of 1976 F1 world champion James, had been the custodian of the Team Lotus title following the demise of the original Colin Chapman-led operation, but sold it to AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes when the Malaysian was looking at a way of rebranding his team for 2011. Fernandes had previously had a five-year agreement to use the Lotus Racing moniker revoked by road car brand owner Proton after just one season.
The Australian Grand Prix thus marks the long-awaited return to F1 of the Team Lotus name, which disappeared from the entry list in 1994. Prior to that, it had enjoyed the highs of winning 79 grands prix and 13 world championships with the likes of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti and Ayrton Senna at the wheel. Hunt acquired the Team Lotus name when the squad folded, briefly lent it to Pacific Racing's ill-fated F1 bid and then sat on it until Fernandes came looking for his alternative.
The Malaysian's bid to bring the Lotus name back to F1 has been met with some resistance, not least from Proton, which has now decided that it has ambitions of its own. The car maker, which has linked Group Lotus with the Renault team as a sponsor this season, insists that Fernandes has no right to use any version of the Lotus brand, resulting in the two parties currently waging a courtroom battle in London. Hunt, having been a staunch ally of Fernandes' in the build-up to the hearing, appeared to switch sides at the start of the week [see story here
], leading to another Twitter outburst from the team boss [see story here
], but now seems to be back behind the 'green-and-gold' squad.
Unable to be in Melbourne himself due to having to attend the Group Lotus v Team Lotus trial, the Briton has sent a message to wish the Fernandes-led team well.
"This is an emotional weekend for me," he admitted, "The journey has been long and hard and, as many know, it's not yet quite over, which is why I've been unable to travel to Melbourne to witness the event to which I've been dedicated since 1995 when I promised the loyal Team Lotus staff and fans that we would bring it back to F1.
"I therefore wish to thank the many Team Lotus fans around the world who have kept faith and encouraged me over the years, and to wish the new Team Lotus staff both in Melbourne and back in the UK, who are now charged with creating a new chapter of success in the marque's history, the very best of success for this weekend.
"Sitting in a London courtroom all week listening to unpleasant legal wrangling has, however, reminded all present of the towering impact on both the racing and road car industries made by Colin Chapman. His presence dominates the room. Whatever the legal issues over his legacy 30 years after his death, racing was his love, Team Lotus the 'jewel in the crown' of his business empire, and F1 the arena in which all of his extraordinary qualities and talents were most passionately unleashed and expressed.
"Living up to 'Chunky's' unique legacy is a big task, but I know the boys and girls of this new Team Lotus relish the challenge and I wish them well in keeping the Chapman racing spirit alive and adding to the marque's glittering history."
Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli qualified only 19th and 20th for the belated season-opener after both reported niggling technical troubles, but insist that they should be better suited to the race, where they will look to live up to pre-season hopes of mixing it with the midfield runners.