With the heritage of the 'old' Lotus team founded by the late Colin Chapman at stake, both parties Lotus Renault GP and Team Lotus, in this court case also known as 1Malaysia, today headed to Court 61 of London's High Court accompanied by their lawyers, both of them confident the outcome of the summary judgment would favor them. Group Lotus had appealed for a summary judgment to determine whether the case would need a full trial, or whether the facts are so clear the court could provide an immediate judgment today.
Team Lotus principal and owner Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes had predicted the court would not make a decision today, as he believed the case would be too complicated to make a definitive decision during a summary judgment. He was right, Mr Justice Peter Smith has ruled the dispute needs a full trial -- and as soon as possible. He ruled the trial will be on March 21 and the intention is to wrap up the case within ten days. The full trial will address all legal matters concerning both Lotus teams, including the ownership of the Team Lotus name.
Therefore it now seems there will be two teams with the Lotus name at the start of the season in Bahrain on March 13: team Lotus and Lotus Renault GP. The latter still needs the approval of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) for the name change as the team is still registered under the name Renault F1 Team in the official 2011 Formula One Championship. Last year BMW-Sauber needed the unanimous approval for their name change of the FOTA teams as well, and if that is the case with Renault as well, Team Lotus owner Fernandes will interestingly enough have the possibility to veto this proposal.
The problems started when Fernandes acquired the name Team Lotus from David Hunt, brother of 1976 Formula One champion James Hunt, who had bought the name from the original Lotus team after its demise in 1994. When Group Lotus, now owned by the Malaysian Proton car manufacturer, heard of this, they decided to revoke the five-year contract they had signed with the Malaysian team for the use of the Lotus name. According to this contract Fernandes was licensed to use the name Lotus Racing for five years, thus today's judgment was not just about Group Lotus disputing Fernandes can also use the Lotus name, but more about the fact Group Lotus in Fernandes' view unlawfully revoked the contract.
Until September of last year, the squabble was about the use of the name Lotus, but that same month Group Lotus announced they would be supporting the French Art GP2 team, and two months later, the truth finally emerged. Group Lotus was planning to revive the Lotus name in Formula One as part of a plan to increase the sales of their Lotus sports cars.
In December Group Lotus announced they had formed an alliance with the Luxembourg-based investor Genii Capital, who had bought the remaining shares of the Renault F1 Team, and would enter the 2011 season under the Lotus Renault GP flag. This was another blow for the by Fernandes owned Team Lotus, and the events took a turn for the worse when the Chapman family announced they supported the Lotus Renault team, as they believed Group Lotus would be the strongest partner to represent the Lotus heritage.
The row intensified again when both Fernandes and Group Lotus announced they would use the legendary black and gold livery in 2011, a reminder of the John Player Special tobacco sponsor of the 1970s and 1980s. Team Lotus decided to withdraw their plans, and instead will be racing with a green and yellow livery, while Lotus Renault went ahead with their plans, and revealed a 2010 car with the 2011 black and gold livery during the Autosport International Show in Birmingham earlier this month.
The Lotus name represents almost four decades of Grand Prix racing, in which the original Team Lotus, sister company of Lotus Cars, won seven Constructors' and six Drivers' Championships, scored 73 race victories (including the 1965 Indianapolis 500), 102 pole positions and 65 fasted laps before the team folded in 1994. Lotus had dominated the 1960s and 1970s with the greatest drivers of Formula One, and the team will be forever connected with the greatest names in Grand Prix racing: Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Stirling Moss, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, and more recently Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna.
With such a rich history, two teams entering the 2011 Formula One Championship with the name Lotus, could not only be confusing for spectators, but could also inflict damage to the Lotus heritage. Potential sponsors might be reluctant to get involved in either of the two teams, perhaps afraid their name will be mentioned in connection of the now still unsolved Lotus versus Lotus saga. All in all, the row between Lotus and Lotus, could prove to be more 'black' than 'gold' for both parties, the trial is in March, so both parties still have the opportunity to settle their differences.
The Lotus saga will be continued...