11 September 2011
Team Lotus to become Caterham for 2012?
Team Lotus looks set to become Caterham F1 for 2012, amid rumours that an agreement has been reached in F1's naming rights row.
Despite having been granted permission for his F1 team to continue operating under the name, Tony Fernandes is rumoured to have agreed terms to relinquish his hold on the Team Lotus title ahead of the 2012 season.
The Malaysian fought hard to ensure that his Norfolk-based operation could continue to run under the Lotus banner, buying the Team Lotus moniker from David Hunt after Proton-owned Group Lotus decided to revoke the licence previously afforded to Fernandes to use the sportscar brand in F1 in 2010. This led to a bitter war-of-words and a court appearance as the two sides argued over the rights to operate as Lotus in the top flight - a battle that neither appeared to win after the judge ruled that both had the right to continue.
However, Fernandes, having proven his point, now appears to have agreed to a settlement with Group Lotus' Dany Bahar which would end the confusion - for casual F1 viewers at least - by relinquishing his hold on the Team Lotus title.
According to former ITV F1 commentator and long-time journalist James Allen, a deal has been struck to end the naming row, with Fernandes set to petition both the FIA and FOM to rebrand his team as Caterham F1, following his acquisition of the small British specialist manufacturer earlier this season. The Team Lotus cars already carry prominent Caterham branding on their sidepods, and Fernandes has also managed to bring the name to his most recent acquisition, British Premiership side Queens Park Rangers. Allen suggests that Fernandes new involvement with Malaysian Airlines may have played a part in the decision to end the row, with the Malaysian government insisting that the row should be brought to an end.
Fernandes confirmed the potential for a rebranding in an interview with Reuters at the the Italian Grand Prix, where he conceded that the spat with Group Lotus had not been good for either the sport or the teams involved.
"I always had a problem with 'am I really Team Lotus?', because there's a big question mark on that," Fernandes confessed, "You can't have a name and not monetise it. So we will have to wait and see. I don't think this is healthy for anyone, having Lotus Renault and Team Lotus, [but] I've always had the door open and there could be a win-win for everybody."
Fernandes already uses the Caterham name in GP2, where it combines with another of his assets, AirAsia, to badge one of the categories two new-for-2011 teams. Despite its inexperience, the squad has already won a race, with Team Lotus tester Davide Valsecchi triumphing in Monaco back in May. Team Lotus, meanwhile, combines with AirAsia in badging Fernandes' driver academy scheme, which includes young Briton Matt Parry among its 2011 intake.
Should the rumour be true, meanwhile, Allen believes that Fernandes will retain the green-and-gold colour scheme that has been a highlight of Team Lotus' 'return' to F1. Iconically linked to the original Colin Chapman operation, Fernandes' abandoned plans to change to black-and-gold colours for 2011 when Group Lotus revealed similar intentions, and has been rewarded with a notable merchandise presence among the fans. With Caterham being another British brand, retaining the national racing colours would make sense for the Malaysian entrepreneur. How that would translate into GP2, however, remains to be seen, with Group Lotus' partnership with ART currently using the green-and-gold, while Fernandes' AirAsia operation runs, confusingly, in red-and-white.
Fernandes also revealed that he intends to move his team from its current base at Hingham, in Norfolk, which would also break links with the traditional Lotus' heartland. While the former TWR Arrows and Super Aguri facility at Leafield has been mentioned as a potential new home, Fernandes has hinted that Silverstone may be a more appropriate destination, especially with the BRDC looking to expand the site around the famous circuit.
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