Team Lotus (2010–11)
Team Lotus, originally Lotus Racing, was a Malaysian licensed Formula One racing team and constructor, based in Hingham, Norfolk, UK, which competed during the 2010 and 2011 Formula One seasons, the team scored no championship points in the two years it competed.
The team was set up by a group of Malaysian businessmen led by Tony Fernandes using a licence from Lotus Cars owner Proton, for the use of the Lotus name in Formula One. The team gained its entry after the withdrawal of the BMW team in 2009. After having that licence terminated for further seasons, the team bought the historic Team Lotus brand in the 2011 season.
The Caterham Group was set up after Fernandes purchased British sportscar manufacturer Caterham Cars. Team Lotus, although forming part of the group, continued to compete under the Lotus name for the 2011 Formula One season. The team's name was eventually changed to "Caterham F1 Team" at the end of 2011, it also competed under the Caterham brand in conjunction with the Caterham Racing Junior Team which competed in the GP2 Series.
Founded as Lotus Racing, the team is operated by 1Malaysia Racing Team Sdn. Bhd., a privately funded project jointly owned by Tune Group and Naza Group, in partnership with the Malaysian Government and a consortium of Malaysian entrepreneurs. Proton, the Malaysian car company which owns Lotus Cars, gave permission for the team to use the Lotus brand in Formula One. The Malaysian Government emphasised that the government itself is not going to invest in the team and that the Malaysian government's investment is only through Proton. The project is part of the 1Malaysia initiative, intended to promote unity amongst Malaysians.
The team was formed after the Litespeed F3 team approached Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes, who already sponsored the Williams team through his AirAsia airline. Litespeed had previously made their own bid to enter the 2010 season with the Team Lotus name, but were not awarded an entry. Lotus Racing's debut marked the return of the Lotus name as a constructor to Formula One for the first time since 1994, when the original British company Team Lotus stopped competing in Formula One.
Fernandes, founder and CEO of the Malaysian-based Tune Group, owner of the AirAsia airline, started as the team principal. Having initially planned to stand down from the role once the season begins, he later indicated that he would carry on in this position. The team's technical director was Mike Gascoyne, who had teamed up with Litespeed for their initial application. Team shareholders SM Nasarudin (CEO and executive chairman of Naza Group) and Kamarudin Meranun (the co-founder with Fernandes of AirAsia and Tune Group) were appointed as deputy team principals.
Riad Asmat was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of 1Malaysia F1 Team Sdn. Bhd. Asmat was formerly working in the managing director's office of Proton Holdings Berhad as General Manager. In Proton Holdings Berhad in 2006, Riad was tasked with the development of its motorsports programme, including the company's involvement in A1 Team Malaysia. Keith Saunt was appointed as Chief Operating Officer of the team and has been selected to manage the technical organisation in Britain reporting directly to Mike Gascoyne. Saunt was tasked with overseeing technical operations on a day-to-day basis at the team's facility in Hingham, Norfolk. His previous experience included senior roles with the original Team Lotus, Benetton Formula, Renault F1 and most recently Red Bull Racing, where he held the role of chief operating officer and director of Red Bull Technology.
The team was based at the RTN (Racing Technology Norfolk Ltd.) facility in Norfolk, UK, 10 miles (16 km) from the Lotus Cars factory. The team's future design, R&D, manufacturing and technical centre was initially to be a purpose-built facility at Malaysia's Sepang International Circuit, but Fernandes later stated that the team would in fact remain in Norfolk.
Being Malaysian-owned, the team promoted and respected Malaysian customs including the serving of Halal food and Malaysian cuisine by dedicated chefs, including celebrity Malaysian chef Norman Musa.
Following the team's late acceptance into F1 following BMW Sauber's departure Gascoyne said "We've got a great heritage that we've got to live up to". He also said they wanted to rival the debut of Brawn GP but said that would be a greater challenge as the Brawn team already had a car ready for racing and all they needed was financing. He also mentioned the main objective was to have a car on the grid in Bahrain at 2010.
Development of the 2010 car started late, due to the late acceptance of the team's entry. Working with Fondtech on aerodynamics, the team used engines supplied by Cosworth, and gearboxes from Xtrac. The design was revealed in October 2009 at the start of the wind tunnel programme. On 17 November, Gascoyne and Fernandes gave a joint interview saying they're "feeling the pressure of the famous name".
On 14 December 2009, the team announced their drivers for their debut season as former Toyota driver Jarno Trulli and McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen. Malaysian driver Fairuz Fauzy was also confirmed as the team's test and reserve driver.
Lotus Racing made their debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix, with both Kovalainen and Trulli being classified as finishers in 15th and 17th respectively, even though Trulli retired with hydraulics issues on the final lap. On 27 June 2010, the team marked the 500th race in the Lotus marque's history. During the British Grand Prix it became known that Lotus were nearing a deal to use Renault engines for the 2011 Formula One season, as well as a formal renaming of the team to Team Lotus.
Despite not scoring any points, Lotus finished the 2010 season tenth in the final constructors' standings, courtesy of a 12th-place finish from Kovalainen at the Japanese Grand Prix, beating fellow new teams Hispania and Virgin. Kovalainen featured in the second qualifying session for the team in the Malaysian Grand Prix and the Belgian Grand Prix (qualifying 15th and 16th respectively).
Lotus Racing announced on 5 October 2010 that the team had agreed a deal with Red Bull Technology for the supply of gearboxes and hydraulic systems from 2011 onwards. As part of a major technical team upgrade many Force India staff were leaving their jobs to join the team and aid with car development. On 24 October 2010, the team confirmed that it will build a dedicated wind-tunnel facility at its British base. In addition, the team and its GP2 outfit Team AirAsia will expand operations at the existing factory site to take over a further two units, giving Team Air Asia a permanent home alongside the Lotus operation. On 5 November 2010, the team confirmed an engine partnership for the next two years with Renault.
On 30 November 2010, the FIA released the entry list for the 2011 season in which Lotus Racing were listed under the "Team Lotus" name. To show that the team was pressing ahead with its plans, they rebranded their factory, changed their official website and introduced a new team logo. Chief executive Riad Asmat announced that he expected the car to be a genuine midfield runner and challenge for point-scoring positions. Jarno Trulli said that the Lotus-sponsored Renault team had given Team Lotus plenty of motivation to perform more consistently. Lotus announced that they were going to launch their new car, the Lotus T128 – online, instead of a physical launch, and was unveiled online on 31 January 2011.
On 11 March 2011, it was confirmed that Luiz Razia and Davide Valsecchi – drivers for Lotus's sister outfit Team AirAsia in the GP2 Series – would join the team as third driver and test driver respectively, and will take part in a number of Friday practice sessions during the season. Ricardo Teixeira also joined as a second test driver. On 22 March 2011, Karun Chandhok also joined as the team's reserve driver.
Although the relative pace of the T128 was an improvement on that of its predecessor, the team were unable to bridge the gap to the lower midfield over the course of the season, generally being slower than closest rivals Toro Rosso and Williams but solidly ahead of HRT and Marussia Virgin, with Kovalainen's performances putting him under the gaze of rival teams.
Use of Lotus name
The team originally took a licence from Group Lotus (owner of Lotus Cars) that allowed them to use the Lotus name for the 2010 season. In September 2010, Group Lotus, with agreement from their parent company Proton, terminated the licence for future seasons as a result of what it called "flagrant and persistent breaches of the licence by the team".
On 24 September 2010 Tony Fernandes announced in a press release that his Tune Group had acquired Team Lotus Ventures Ltd, the company led by David Hunt since 1994 when Team Lotus had stopped competing in Formula One, and with it full ownership of the rights of the Team Lotus brand and heritage. The team confirmed that they would be known as Team Lotus from 2011 onwards.
In September 2010, it was announced that Tony Fernandes would be expanding his interests to include a GP2 Series team, to be known as Team Air Asia, named for one of Fernandes's companies, Air Asia. There is already a Lotus Racing supported team known as Lotus Junior Team in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series. However, while it was announced that Team Air Asia would be joining the GP2 grid, fellow GP2 team ART Grand Prix announced a joint venture with Lotus Cars, with their GP2 and GP3 teams to be renamed "Lotus ART" from 2011 onwards in a similar arrangement to the one that has seen Lotus Cars sponsoring Takuma Sato and KV Racing Technology in the IndyCar Series.
Lotus Cars launched legal action against Lotus Racing, claiming that Tony Fernandes did not have the rights to use the Lotus name because David Hunt was never in a position to sell them. Some commentators even went so far as to suggest that this was an attempt by Lotus Cars to force Fernandes to stop using the Lotus name with a view to launching a second Lotus effort in Formula 1 in conjunction with ART Grand Prix; ART had previously submitted a tender to join the 2011 Formula One grid, but withdrew after failing to secure a budget. With the support of Lotus Cars, ART would have the funding needed to enter Formula One.
On 27 September 2010, Proton issued a statement saying that Group Lotus owned all rights to the Lotus name in the automotive sector, including Formula One, and that Fernandes has no rights to use the brand in the 2011 season. Fernandes did however state that the team will go to court if necessary to protect the brand name.
On 8 December 2010, Group Lotus announced that they had bought a stake in Renault F1 and had agreed to become title sponsor, with the French car maker retiring to the role of engine supplier. The team would be known as "Lotus Renault GP", creating a unique situation whereby the 2011 Formula One grid would see two teams known as Lotus and powered by Renault engines lining up to race. To further the confusion, Group Lotus announced that the 2011 Lotus Renault GP cars would carry a black and gold livery reminiscent of the John Player & Sons liveries previously used by Colin Chapman's Team Lotus in the 1980s, paralleling plans by Tony Fernandes to race in 2011 with a JPS-inspired livery. However, on 11 December 2010, Tony Fernandes stated that it was "ludicrous" to run his squad in the same colours as Lotus Renault GP, and thus his team would continue with their present green and yellow colour scheme in 2011.
On 23 December 2010, Clive Chapman – the son of Lotus founder Colin Chapman – released, on behalf of the Chapman family – including Colin's widow, Hazel – a statement expressing their unequivocal support for Group Lotus in the ongoing dispute over the use of the Lotus name in Formula One and declaring that the family would "prefer that the Team Lotus name should not be used in Formula One."
On 24 January 2011, a judge at the High Court of Justice in London set a trial date over the naming dispute for 21 March, which means that two teams – Team Lotus and the Group Lotus-sponsored Renault outfit – will begin the 2011 season with Lotus signage. The case does not revolve around the ownership of the name, but rather over the termination of the contract between Fernandes and Group Lotus. Lotus Racing completed the 2010 season with a name used under licence from Group Lotus. The licence was terminated after one year, with Group Lotus claiming that Fernandes had breached the terms of the contract in using the name and image of Lotus Cars, and so were free to terminate it; Fernandes, on the other hand, claimed that Group Lotus had wrongfully terminated the contract. The purpose of the March hearing is to determine whether or not the licensing contract was wrongfully terminated. The hearing over the ownership of the Team Lotus name will take place later in the year.
At the launch of the Renault R31 in Valencia, Spain, Lotus Renault GP owner Gérard Lopez expressed frustration over the situation and suggested that the dispute was not over the rights to a team name or the heritage of the Lotus name, but over the television rights paid out annually to the teams by Formula One Management. Commentators suggest that Fernandes and his team would be eligible for as much as $36 million for finishing tenth in the 2010 World Constructors' Championship standings, which they would stand to lose if they changed their name.
On the eve of the High Court hearing in March 2011, David Hunt claimed that Tony Fernandes had refused to honour his contractual obligations in purchasing the Team Lotus name and was attempting to renegotiate the contract with terms that Hunt described as "ludicrous". Hunt issued an ultimatum, stating that if Fernandes did not honour the original contract, then Hunt would not support him in his case against Group Lotus, which he claimed had "[some] potentially serious holes". Team Lotus went into the 2011 Australian Grand Prix with David Hunt's support in their case against Group Lotus having made a U-turn on his previous criticisms of Fernandes and the team.
On 27 May 2011, the High Court ruled that the team would be able to continue using the "Team Lotus" name and Team Lotus roundel, but could not use "Lotus" on its own. The ruling confirmed Fernandes as the owner of the Team Lotus name, having bought the rights to the name from Hunt. The court ruling stated that Group Lotus had sole right to use the name "Lotus" on its own, and could enter Formula One using "Lotus" for a team name, the black and gold livery, and the Lotus roundel. Team Lotus was told to pay damages after being found in breach of the licensing agreement made with Group Lotus, which had seen the team compete as "Lotus Racing" during the 2010 season.
In July 2011, the two parties returned to the High Court, seeking to resolve the issue altogether. Justice Peter Smith expressed discontent towards Tony Fernandes and Team Lotus after Fernandes had made no mention of his purchase of Caterham Cars during the initial hearings. Furthermore, Fernandes had claimed that Caterham would remain entirely separate from Team Lotus, but a promotional video for the company showing Fernandes wearing Team Lotus apparel. Justice Smith commented that had this material been submitted at the original hearing, then it would have had the potential to influence him enough to rule differently in May.
Complete Formula One results
(key) (results in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicate fastest lap)
|2010||T127||Cosworth CA2010 2.4 V8||B||BHR||AUS||MAL||CHN||ESP||MON||TUR||CAN||EUR||GBR||GER||HUN||BEL||ITA||SIN||JPN||KOR||BRA||ABU||0||10th|
|2011||T128||Renault RS27-2011 2.4 V8||P||AUS||MAL||CHN||TUR||ESP||MON||CAN||EUR||GBR||GER||HUN||BEL||ITA||SIN||JPN||KOR||IND||ABU||BRA||0||10th|
- † – The driver did not finish the Grand Prix, but was classified, as they completed over 90% of the race distance.
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