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Bahar pleads for Team Lotus to be allowed to 'rest in peace'

16 December 2010

Group Lotus CEO Dany Bahar has called for an end to the embarrassing ongoing row between Lotus Racing and the newly-renamed Lotus Renault GP outfit in F1, by stressing that the iconic, Colin Chapman-founded 'Team Lotus' brand should be permitted to 'rest in peace' – and claiming that Proton's initial efforts to do a deal with Tony Fernandes were scuppered by 'absurd' demands in return.

Prior to Bahar's arrival at Lotus last year, the management of the car company – which is owned by Malaysian manufacturer Proton, with backing from the country's government – had granted Fernandes the licence to enter F1 under the Lotus Racing banner, and with the ex-Ferrari and Red Bull man well appreciating the merits of promoting Lotus through the medium of motorsport, all the groundwork for a collaboration between the two parties should theoretically have been in-place. Only no agreement could be reached.

Bahar has revealed that Group Lotus endeavoured to join forces with Fernandes' operation, only to be dissuaded by 'ridiculous and absurd' terms – driving Proton instead towards Renault, in which it will eventually buy a stake of somewhere between 25 and 50 per cent, it is understood.

“If the price had been right, if some conditions had been more realistic I believe this would have been the right approach,” the 39-year-old is quoted as having said by James Allen on the former ITV-F1 commentator's internet blog. “We were not afraid of partnering with Mr. Fernandes. We tried, but when the counter-proposals are so ridiculous, there is no point to continue to talk. [The Renault deal] was one third of the cost.”

“Complete rubbish,” retorted Fernandes. ” We never even talked about numbers. Proton paid us $1 million in sponsorship. I offered [Bahar] to be joint venture partners, I offered share swap, we did everything. If he gave us $20 million (the level of Lotus' sponsorship of Renault), he could have got so much out of it. He would be in Norfolk, sponsoring a team that own Team Lotus. He would have Clive Chapman down the road and together we could all have worked together to bring Lotus to greater heights in three years.”

Bahar explained that he did not make any attempt to purchase the 'Team Lotus' rights from David Hunt – brother of 1976 F1 World Champion James Hunt – as he believed that being in charge of Group Lotus, 'no judge in the world could stop me promoting my brand in F1'. And then when Fernandes announced his intention to re-baptise his own squad with the legendary moniker next year, battle lines were drawn. At one point, both teams even planned to run in the same black-and-gold JPS-reminiscent livery.

“We don't claim to be Team Lotus, and we don't want to be,” Bahar urged, seeking to dispel his public image as the 'bad guy' in the whole scenario. “It has a glorious past, but Team Lotus should be kept where it was – it should rest in peace. We do not want to become a second Team Lotus – we will never be one – but we don't want other people to call their car a Lotus, because the Lotus car is our brand.”

Indeed, despite the current confusing prospect of two Lotus teams lining up on the F1 2011 starting grid, Gérard Lopez – whose Genii Capital investment group owns a majority 75 per cent stake in what was Renault F1 and is soon to become Lotus Renault GP – agrees that no current team can lay claim to the ultra-successful, multiple world championship-winning Team Lotus legacy since its sad financial collapse and subsequent disappearance from the grand prix grid 16 years ago.

“There is no claim that this has anything to do with the Lotus racing team of old,” he told BBC Oxford. “I don't think either group – neither us nor them – could really lay claim to that. This is a Lotus-branded racing team that is attached to Group Lotus who manufacture road cars. We are sure to be called what we are going to be called, but I'm not sure they will be called that way. It's pure speculation that there might be four cars using the same name.”

Fernandes is presently seeking a ruling in London's High Court over the rights to the 'Team Lotus' name and is pursuing legal action against Proton and Group Lotus for having terminated his five-year licensing deal four years early. Both Lopez and Bahar are confident it is a battle Fernandes will not win, with the latter predicting an out-of-court peace deal.

The Turkish-born businessman went on to outline his vision for the future of Lotus in F1, with the reputed $20 million-a-year Renault agreement – initially for two seasons, with an option to extend into a third – making sense given Genii Capital's pre-existing relationship with Proton in joint road car initiatives.

“We would not have the courage to build a new team from scratch,” Bahar reasoned, “so we took the more conservative approach. We want to fight at the top end of the grid. We understand that for the next two years we need to learn about F1, the car will be a Renault and so on, but then when we have a new Concorde Agreement, hopefully (in 2013) we can possibly change the name. We'll see where we are and learn over two years.”

With five new road-going sportscars in the pipeline, too – as Lotus bids to reinvent itself as a kind of British Porsche and turn around a long loss-making trend, Allen explains – Bahar is launching an 'ambitious and super-aggressive plan' in the coming years, with F1's ever-expanding Asian market a key target.


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