Whilst stressing his conviction that 'if we go to court, we will win', Tony Fernandes has promised that whatever happens in the ongoing naming wrangle between Lotus Racing, Proton and Renault in F1, he will not 'be involved in destroying the Lotus name' and will not drag one of the most iconic brands in automotive history 'through the gutter'.

For weeks now, there has been a very public row between Fernandes - founder and team principal of Lotus Racing, the best of the F1 2010 newcomers - and state-funded Malaysian manufacturer Proton, which owns Group Lotus and licensed the legendary name to the AirAsia founder this year.

The dispute arose after Fernandes announced his intention to bring the much-loved 'Team Lotus' moniker back into F1 from 2011, having bought the rights to the trademark from David Hunt, brother of the late 1976 world champion James Hunt - yet Proton contends that coming under the Group Lotus umbrella, the rights were never Hunt's to sell, but rather their own. Cue the revocation of Fernandes' licence to the Lotus name, and the current legal stand-off.

To muddy the waters further, it soon became apparent that the key reason behind Proton's opposition to Fernandes' plans was that, having witnessed the blaze of positive international publicity that the bold Lotus Racing endeavour has brought to Malaysia, it is keen to jump on the bandwagon with designs on an F1 involvement of its own.

French newspaper Le Figaro predicts an imminent confirmation that the car maker is to purchase the remaining 25 per cent stake in the financially-struggling Renault F1 operation that is now owned in major part by G?rard Lopez's Genii Capital company, which interestingly has long-standing links outside of the sport with the Lotus Group.

That would leave the French manufacturer as purely an engine-supplier to a team that would likely be rebranded Lotus-Renault, as well as to reigning double world champions Red Bull Racing and Fernandes' squad.

It has been hinted that a deal could be announced today (Wednesday) that would see Group Lotus become the Enstone-based outfit's title sponsor in a EUR30 million-a-year agreement stretching over five seasons, ostensibly to be funded by the Malaysian taxpayer.

Renault President and CEO Carlos Ghosn has conceded only that 'we'll be there next year and in future seasons', although in what capacity remains unclear - and pointedly, the Brazilian did not rule out a name change for the team - whilst Lopez told Reuters: "We are interested in Lotus as a car company. Is there something with the team to be done? We'll see."

To add further intrigue, Lotus Racing concluded a deal last month to use Renault engines in 2011 and 2012 - and F1 clearly isn't big enough for two different Lotus-Renault teams in the field. Complicated, isn't it? And if that alone isn't enough, both Lotus Racing and Group Lotus will be represented in the feeder GP2 Series next year, the former running under the AirAsia banner and the latter in partnership with the ultra-successful ART Grand Prix, with the joint project to be known as Lotus-ART.

Back in September, Fernandes filed for a court ruling over the matter in London's High Court, with the case likely to be heard in 2011 - but whilst the Malaysian entrepreneur admits he is keen to retain the Lotus name, he is adamant that he will not fight to do so at all costs.

Although it has been mooted that he might buy the Lotus Group off of Proton - reflecting that 'if it was an option that was available to us, that's feasible' - a more likely scenario would appear to be Fernandes selling the Team Lotus name to the car maker instead and running his own effort either as AirAsia or else under its original appellation of 1Malaysia Racing Team next year.

"I've received 2,800 emails in the last two hours from people all over the world saying 'please keep the Lotus name with you - it means nothing if it goes somewhere else'," he told Reuters. "Let's see, but what we don't want to be involved in is destroying the Lotus name.

"If we go to court, yes, we will win, but the brand will suffer, and I don't want to be part of that brand being destroyed, I don't want to drag it through the gutter. We feel that we've done justice to the Lotus name, we want to keep it, we feel it's ours - but we are also pragmatic human beings."



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