Lotus Renault GP chairman Gérard Lopez says that there is only one Lotus car company, telling a number of British journalists that Tony Fernandes is trying to twist the real story. He said “You’ve got to call a spade a spade”. Lopez claims that it is “bullsh*t” to suggest that there are two car companies.
Well, let us look at the facts, shall we? And then designate spade status and decide who is talking bullsh*t at the end of the discussion.
It is a fact that there is only one Lotus road car company. It is called Group Lotus PLC, although it is not actually a PLC, as it has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Bhd (Proton), Malaysia’s national car company, since 2002.
Tony Fernandes does not run a car company – at least not at the moment.
Fernandes does, however, own the right to use the Team Lotus name, which he bought from David Hunt last autumn. Prior to that he had bought the right to use the “Lotus Racing” name from Group Lotus PLC for a five year period.
Group Lotus revoked that licence last year, claiming that Fernandes was breaching the agreement. That revocation has yet to be examined in a court of law.
Group Lotus’s chief executive Dany Bahar told the BBC that “when I arrived with a new management team, we had our own ideas and plans and that is nobody’s fault, not the shareholders and not Mr Fernandes. We have a crystal clear vision of where we want to go in future”. This clearly implies that Fernandes had not done anything wrong, but rather had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and was simply in Bahar’s way as he wanted to do the same thing as Fernandes was doing – as he has subsequently proved by becoming the title sponsor of the Renault team and changing the team name to Lotus Renault GP, in the hope that this will convince people to call the cars Lotuses, rather than Renaults, which is what they are on the official FIA entry list.
The fact that Group Lotus declared the licence deal to be finished does not mean that it was a correct thing to do, nor that Fernandes does not have a right to compensation. Bahar likened the relationship with Fernandes as being like a failed marriage. A contract is broken (by agreement) and suitable alimony is paid. It is for a court of law to decide the rights and the wrongs of that situation.
Fernandes says that he has a right to run a Formula 1 team called Team Lotus. As one can see by looking at Companies House, there is a team called Lotus Renault GP Ltd, which is apparently owned by Lopez’s GenII company from Luxembourg, but runs cars called Renaults, and there is another team called Team Lotus Ventures Ltd which operates from an address in Hingham, Norfolk, which runs cars called Lotuses. The latter is run by Fernandes, David Hunt’s having ceased to be a director of the company back in September. Team Lotus Ventures is the descendant of the Team Lotus that was sold by the Chapman Family to Peter Wright and Peter Collins in 1990 for $6 million. The family today claims that it does not want the Team Lotus name to continue, but that argument has no substance given that they sold the name 20 years ago. If they wanted to kill the Team Lotus name they could have done so then. Instead they took the money.
Thus there are two teams in F1 today claiming to be allowed to use the Lotus name. Both have some logic to their arguments.
Lopez claims that all Fernandes wants is money and that this was proved during negotiations about a settlement. Those discussions took place during the Abu Dhabi GP weekend last year and they were not about how Group Lotus might work with Lotus Racing, but rather about what it would take to get rid of Tony Fernandes. He did not want to give up on his project – and ultimately decided not to. There were discussions about money but, quite rightly, Fernandes was only interested in a deal that would give him back what he had put into his project. There was no reason for him to accept making a financial loss because Group Lotus had changed its mind.
It really does not matter about who is passionate and who is not passionate about F1. Lopez says that he liked Lotus as a kid. Fernandes says much the same.
So did half the world…
Fernandes posted a comment on this blog this morning which explians his motivation. It makes sense.
“All we were doing is bringing Lotus from the dead as many has asked us,” he wrote. “There are many of our employees who worked in original Lotus. The link with Norfolk is there. We have built everything from scratch with our own money. I grew up watching Williams and Lotus, camping at Brands. We have invested £80 million into Lotus and as the years unfold you will see our strategy. You sell something and hence you own it. You spend £80 million pounds to build it. You build something of value, now everyone wants it.
“I’m sorry. This is something we built with lots of money, great people, great spirit and hard work and, most importantly, honesty. I am damned proud of what we have achieved in one year. We didn’t borrow money to buy a team, we built the team from scratch. There is a separation between Group Lotus and Team Lotus. I didn’t create it. We own it and we are proud if it.”
When all is said and done, there are lawyers working flat out to build cases which will be discussed when the trial begins in March. Both sides have a great deal to lose. It will down to the judge to decide who is right and who is wrong.
He will be the one calling a spade a spade.
He will decide what is “bullsh*t” and what is not…