Korean Grand Prix again in doubt, Lotus doesn't want Lotus to become Lotus
Korean Grand Prix again in doubt
Once again doubts have been raised about the Korean Grand Prix, this time FOM executive Bernie Ecclestone was the one to provide food for thought, during the Singapore Grand Prix he openly voiced his concerns about the question whether the Korean Yeongam circuit will be ready before October 24 or not. On previous occasions Ecclestone always had expressed his confidence the circuit would be finished on time, but when asked by the BBC on Sunday in Singapore, Ecclestone was no longer positive. "It's not good. It should have been inspected maybe six weeks ago," he said.
"We normally have a 90-day check before a race and now we are sort of putting this off," he said, referring to the mandatory FIA inspection which according to the regulations has to take place at least 3 months before the actual event. "It's quite dangerous what we've done actually but it's a case of do we cancel the race or not? They say it's all going to be okay, so we hope they are right." And Korea is running out of time, FIA Race Director and Safety Delegate Charlie Whiting has visited the circuit in July, he said he was satisfied with what he had seen, but the circuit did not pass the inspection because many buildings were not finished yet, parts of the infrastructure (IT, TV and Press facilities) were not in place and even the track itself was not finished.
The circuit again missed a deadline for the final inspection, and it has again been postponed, now to October 11, one day after the Japanese Grand Prix. Spokesman Kim Jae-Ho of the promoter of the Korean Grand Prix, the Korea Auto Valley Operation (KAVO), reacted on Monday and said, "We will have no problem in hosting the race on October 24 as we have almost completed work. We will rush to complete work and FIA officials will see a complete circuit when they conduct a final inspection in two weeks."
But when the circuit is inspected on October 11, most of the Formula One teams will already have booked plane tickets and hotel rooms, and most of their freight will already be on its way to Korea. Formula One teams are now also concerned about the fate of the Korean Grand Prix. If it would be cancelled, it could have an impact on the teams who are leading the championship, they will then have three and not four opportunities to reel in this year's title, which would for some teams be good news, and for other teams bad news.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh hopes the race is not cancelled, his team needs all the opportunities they can get to close the gap to the leaders of the championship. Whitmarsh, "We would like to get a lot of points there, and we want more races. I think there are clearly, from everything we hear, a lot of concerns there, but I think we have to assume that Bernie and the Koreans are working on that. We have to concentrate now on going to Suzuka and maximizing our points."
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner is confident the circuit will be ready in time. Red Bull has given a demonstration on the Yeongam circuit a few weeks ago with Karun Chandhok at the wheel of a 2009 Red Bull car, and also have published onboard video images of the track on YouTube, they perhaps have more insight on the situation. Horner, "I had a chat with some representatives [of the circuit] earlier and they now seem pretty confident. We were there a few weeks ago and they were well on course with it, so we are pretty confident. At the moment all the flights are still booked."
Asked if cancellation would have an impact on his drivers, Horner hinted Mark Webber, who is leading the championship, would have no problems with a cancellation, but for Sebastian Vettel it could be a problem, he is 21 points behind Webber.
For Ferrari a cancellation could engine-wise be good news because they have ran out of fresh engines since Monza, but for Fernando Alonso who is second in the championship 11 points behind Webber, it could be a disadvantage. As the fate of the Korean Grand Prix will only be known after the Japanese Grand Prix, one can only assume all teams and title candidates will do there utmost to gain as many points as they possibly can on the high-speed Suzuka circuit, rather than speculating about the implications the cancellation of the Korean Grand Prix could have.
If the race would be cancelled it will also result in an unexpected 4-week autumn-break for all teams, which will also give them plenty of extra time to upgrade their car ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix, normally they would not have the time to do that. It will also give them the opportunity to 'regroup', as Whitmarsh put it last weekend, and get ready for the final push to the end of this year's Formula One Championship.
Lotus doesn't want Lotus to become Lotus
On the Friday ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix, team Lotus Racing owner Malaysian Tony Fernandes announced he had purchased the rights to the "Team Lotus" brand name, and his current team, this season officially branded "Lotus Racing", would be re-branded for the 2011 season and continue in Formula One under the name "Team Lotus". A Fernandes co-owned company Tune Group has bought Team Lotus Ventures Limited, the company who owns the rights of the Team Lotus brand, and therefore Fernandes now owns the rights to carry the name Team Lotus in Formula One next season. The family of the late Collin Chapman fully supports Fernandes' plans and also supported the acquisition of the Team Lotus brand.
The original "Team Lotus" was active in Formula One from 1958 until 1994. Team Lotus (the official company name was Lotus Engineering Limited and was founded in 1954) was in fact the motorsport sister company of the English sports car manufacturer Lotus Cars, both companies were owned by Colin Chapman. The Lotus Formula One team was very successful and for two decades they dominated the sport, they won six drivers' championships, and seven constructors' championships. They are still considered to be one of the most successful and charismatic teams ever, and that is why the name Lotus even today is still in hot demand.
In 1994 Team Lotus ran into serious financial problems, as a result they left Formula One and Team Lotus ceased to exist. After their unfortunate demise, businessman David Hunt, brother of the late 1976 Formula One World Champion James Hunt, bought the rights of the Team Lotus brand name and founded Team Lotus Ventures Limited. In 2009 Fernandes' outfit "1 Malaysia Racing Team", was granted a 2010 entry after the FIA had selected three new teams for 2010. Fernandes was very keen to re-introduce the historic Team Lotus name, but he couldn't use the name because Team Lotus Ventures Limited owned the rights. He ran out of time and thus for this season Fernandes acquired a license from Group Lotus to carry the name "Lotus Racing" in Formula One in 2010.
Group Lotus is the official name for the British Lotus sports car company which is owned by the Malaysian Proton road car manufacturer, which in its turn is owned by the Malaysian government. Group Lotus is divided in two companies: Lotus Cars and Lotus Engineering. Proton now claims Fernandes has no right to use the name Team Lotus, as they believe Group Lotus, and not Team Lotus Ventures Limited, is the owner of all Lotus related names in the automotive sector, which according to Proton's statement, also includes Formula One.
One week ago the Lotus Group announced they would enter the GP2 and GP3 series together with the French ART racing team. According to the statement, the Lotus Group would not just be 'a partner in name only', but would also provide 'technical and engineering support for the GP2 and GP3 race series for the foreseeable future'. The technical support will come from Lotus Motorsport, a sub-division of Lotus Cars, and there were already speculations Group Lotus would withdraw the license Fernandes earlier obtained for his 1 Malaysia Racing Team.
And indeed, this week Group Lotus issued a statement which read: "With Proton's agreement, Group Lotus has now terminated its license to 1 Malaysia Racing Team to use the "Lotus Racing" brand in the 2011 and future Formula 1 seasons as a result of the flagrant and persistent breaches of the license by 1 Malaysia Racing Team, which were damaging to the Lotus brand." The statement failed to mention what the breaches exactly were, but today Lotus Racing chief executive Riad Asmat revealed there had been a dispute about the design of a T-shirt. But the T-shirt dispute is just a bad excuse to terminate the license, as it is strongly suspected Group Lotus want to use the Lotus brand name themselves.
Fernandes recently hinted that Proton and Group Lotus had tried to buy the Team Lotus brand name from Hunt's company Team Lotus Ventures Limited, and in fact wanted to use the name for their GP2 plans -- which perhaps could include a new attempt to get into Formula One. But they did not succeed, Hunt sold his company including the Team Lotus name to Fernandes, the disgruntled Group Lotus is now trying to prevent Fernandes will use the Team Lotus name in Formula One. Proton has threatened they will go to court if Fernandes goes ahead with his plans to re-brand his team.
Yesterday Lotus Racing issued a statement in which they accept the withdrawal of the license for the Lotus Racing name, and they once again stated they are the legitimate owners of the name Team Lotus, "As Tune Group has now bought Team Lotus Ventures it means we can now use the Team Lotus name for 2011 and beyond." The statement further read: "However, given that this is contested by Group Lotus we think now is the time to clear this matter up so there can be no further arguments. We have therefore 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."
Since both parties claim they own the name Team Lotus, and the date for the High Court case is not known, and given the fact Group Lotus could appeal the decision of the High Court, it could be a long hot winter for Lotus and Lotus, in Malaysia, and in Great Britain.
Join us again next week for the weekly "Formula One: On and off track".
See also: Formula One - On and Off track week 38