New Lotus saga twist ‘imminent’

Hethel's Group Lotus could confirm its appearance on the 2011 Formula One grid this week – putting a huge question mark over the name of Tony Fernandes' Hingham-based Lotus Racing outfit.

Sources in France claim Group Lotus owners, Malaysian car manufacturer Proton, will put pen to paper tomorrow on a deal to buy Renault's remaining 21 per cent stake in the F1 team that helped decide this season's drivers championship in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

The reported five-year agreement worth �100m would see the team based in Enstone, near Oxford, sponsored by the Lotus Cars brand and renamed Lotus Renault for 2011, supplied by Renault engines.

And that team would have an outside chance of race wins, with the likes of Polish driver Robert Kubica helping the 2010 team to fifth in the constructors' championship.

In fact it was Kubica and, more impressively Russian Vitaly Petrov, who scuppered the respective drivers' title chances of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso around Yas Marina on Sunday.

Group Lotus were remaining tight-lipped over the speculation yesterday, but the reported deal may force Norwich-born engineer Mike Gascoyne and Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes to let go of their own efforts to bring the glory days back to the Lotus name.

The pair set up their Hingham-based team as one of three new constructors for the 2010 season and comfortably outperformed fellow new boys, HRT and Virgin Racing as they booked 10th place and the added multi-million pound payout that accompanies it.

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However, Fernandes' plan to use the Team Lotus moniker from next season has led to a legal battle with Group Lotus, who then decided to rescind the licence it had granted Fernandes to use the Lotus name in the first place.

It has been suggested Fernandes is open to dropping the Lotus name if he is paid out by Group Lotus or the Malaysian government, who are major stakeholders in Proton.

The situation of having two Lotus teams on the 2011 grid seems unlikely, and although Fernandes still harbours hopes of keeping the Lotus name beyond this season, he admitted the battle may be too much to take on.

'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',' Fernandes told yesterday.

'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.

'I feel it should not be robbed from us. But also in the cold heart of day we don't want to get into stupid fights about it.

'The pragmatic Tony Fernandes is saying; let's not destroy what Colin Chapman built. And if it is meant to be it is meant to be, we will sell the brand and let Dany Bahar (Group Lotus chief executive) get on and do what he wants to do.

'But the emotional side of me is saying we did a great job, we own it and right now I want to fight for it.

'Fighting is not something we are scared of doing and fight we will do. But, we also are aware of not screwing up the brand.'

Team principal Fernandes added after Sunday's race in Abu Dhabi: 'I can confidently say that everyone associated with the Lotus history can be very proud of what we have done this year. This is the first chapter of a long career ahead and we will create our own future, destiny and history from here.'

Chief technical officer Gascoyne has already admitted the name of his team will not affect how he feels going into work each morning, but he has questioned why Group Lotus would want to invest so much money in something it is already getting for free from Lotus Racing – advertising on the F1 grid.

'If they want to advertise their road cars, why spend so much money on it?' Gascoyne asked in Germany's Auto Motor und Sport magazine. With us, they could do it free of charge.'