A number of people do not think that Lotus should be celebrating the celebrated marque’s 500th Grand Prix, arguing that Lotus racing has got nothing to do with the old Team Lotus and that it is just a piece of brand engineering. That is a matter of opinion, but I’ll explain why I think it is justified. It is all down to one man: Tony Fernandes. OK, so he is a Malaysian, but he is a very British Malaysian. Tony had been an F1 fan since his childhood and he understands the significance of the Lotus name, not just its marketing value.
“Lotus is a British brand and that will never change,” he says. “It’s just Malaysian finance. We think that makes sense. We wanted to break new ground in F1, open up the sport to a whole new audience, geographically and demographically, and, by being lean, hungry, innovative and passionate, achieve something incredible that would inspire people around the world to follow their own dreams.”
Tony dared to dream that Lotus could be revived, something which David Hunt failed to achieve in 15 years of trying, despite a decent track record of raising money in his racing days with Acorn Computers and Cellnet. Hunt was the first man to bring a mobile phone company into the sport. Fernandes managed to put the whole thing together with Malaysian money and in league with Proton, the owner of Lotus Cars – which granted him the right to use the Lotus Racing name. Racing purists may argue that it is not really Team Lotus, but Fernandes is intent on changing that view. The car is green and yellow. The team is based in Norfolk, not far from the old Lotus headquarters, and the chassis designation is T127, the next Lotus type number. I am told that he even tried to buy Ketteringham Hall, the old home of Team Lotus (below).
This is owned by the Chapman Family and has been divided into business units which are leased to companies.
Fernandes also sought out the blessing of the Chapman Family and when Colin Chapman’s son Clive asked him whether the new team’s first victory would be a first win for Lotus Racing or the 80th victory for Lotus, Tony was very clear. It would be Lotus’s 80th.
“I knew that bringing Lotus back to the grid would have an emotional pull for many fans who remember the likes of Jimmy Clark, Graham Hill, Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell and all those other great champions,” Fernandes says, “but I couldn’t have dreamt that we’d see the younger fans, whose parents may have talked about the old days, embrace us so quickly. “
Perhaps most important, however, is Fernandes’s approach, which is pure Lotus.
“In every business I work with I am very lucky to work alongside clever, hard working, passionate people who inspire me, drive me forward and make me laugh! I teach them to never take no for an answer, always push and never stop dreaming.”
Good people and great passion. And that is why he is a suitable heir to the legend of Team Lotus.