Today the Renault Formula One team announced a long-term deal with Group Lotus, the sports car manufacturer owned by Malaysian car manufacturer Proton. French car company Renault have sold their remaining stake in the Renault Formula One team to investor Genii Capital, which opened the door for the new Lotus-Renault alliance. Group Lotus has formed an alliance with Genii Capital, who already were a major stake holder in the Renault Formula One team.
According to a statement published earlier today 'Group Lotus plc will become a major equity partner of Genii Capital in Lotus Renault GP, and the two parties have concluded a title sponsorship agreement that will run until the end of the 2017 season'. The statement confirms Renault will supply the new Lotus Renault GP team not only with engines, but will also support the new team with their 'technical and engineering expertise'. Lotus Renault GP will continue to compete with the Renault chassis name, and according to the statement 'will enjoy pre-eminent brand exposure on the livery'.
Chairman of the Renault Formula One team, Gerard Lopez, about the new alliance, "We are delighted that we can now go public with the news that we will be racing as Lotus Renault GP in 2011. It is extremely exciting to begin a new era for the team in partnership with Group Lotus, and we will continue to enjoy a strong relationship with Renault over the coming seasons." Dany Bahar, Group Lotus CEO, is a happy man as well, "I can think of no better platform for automotive brand communications than motor sport and Formula One is the very pinnacle of open-wheel racing."
Proton and Group Lotus had already earlier this year announced they will also form a partnership with the French ART team, and will be competing in the GP3 and GP2 Series next year. Group Lotus will also be involved in the American Indycar Series in the future, as they will supply engines and bodywork for the 2012 Indycar Series. Group Lotus also recently surprised the sports car world when they presented no less than five new concept cars, the Elite, Esprit, Elise, Elan and Evora, and the hybrid Lotus City Car, during the Paris Motor Show last September. It's obvious the Proton owned Lotus Group is on a mission to blow new life into the Lotus brand, which was originally founded by the legendary Colin Chapman in 1952.
The announcement will be a major setback for the by Tony Fernandes led and owned current Lotus Racing team, as they have announced they will race under the name 'Team Lotus' next year. Bahar is adamant the conflict with Fernandes will be resolved, as he is confident Proton and Group Lotus are the rightful owners of the Lotus brand name. "We're well aware that there has been a lot of controversy around the usage of our brand in Formula One and I'm delighted to be able to formally clarify our position once and for all: we are Lotus and we are back," said Bahar in today's statement.
To make the confusion complete, Lotus Renault GP has released pictures of next year's Lotus Renault, a Renault R30 painted in the familiar iconic Lotus black and gold livery of the seventies and eighties, exactly the same color scheme Fernandes had in mind for his new 2011 car. The confusion started in September when Fernandes announced he had purchased the name 'Team Lotus' from David Hunt, brother of the 1976 Formula One World Champion James Hunt, and owner of the Team Lotus name. Hunt founded Team Lotus Ventures, and bought the rights after the original Lotus Formula One team (Team Lotus International Ltd ) folded at the end of 1994. And to make it even more confusing: Renault will also be the 2011 engine supplier for the by Fernandes led Malaysian Team Lotus squad.
The current dispute, despite of today's optimistic words of Bahar, however, has not been resolved. Fernandes had already in September he would bring the case to the English Court, to once and for all establish who is the rightful owner of the Lotus brand name. At the time, team CEO Riad Asmat stated: "We have today issued proceedings in the English High Court for a declaration that Team Lotus Ventures has the rights to use the Team Lotus name and everything associated with that brand in relation to Formula One." Proton reacted by stating they believe they own the name, and a spokesman commented: "We are the owners of this brand, and will take all necessary steps to protect it."
Unfortunately, it seems both parties will go to war, a war that will be fought in court, and not on a circuit. Fernandes wrote on Twitter today: "Dany Bahar has done us a favor. Never felt better about our future and Team Lotus. Looks like they [are] trying to hijack our black and gold idea". Team Lotus Technical Director Mike Gascoyne was also optimistic when he twittered: "Lotus, just like buses, you wait for ages and then two come along at once. Rest assured, we are Team Lotus and we are here to stay." And Team Lotus CEO Asmat stated: "To clarify, since I've been receiving numerous calls from the media over here; we are Team Lotus."
However, apart from these tweets, Fernandes nor other CEO's of the current Malaysian Lotus Racing team have so far given any official comments on this shock-move of Renault and Group Lotus, but it is clear the FIA will certainly not allow two teams to use the Lotus brand name (the French Lotus Renault GP and Malaysian Team Lotus) in Formula One in 2011. The High Court case is scheduled for January 2011. To be continued.