Fernandes and Lotus tug-of-war unpacked

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The Lotus Racing story has some odd twists and turns but in the end, it really appears to be a power struggle for the name Lotus. The Lotus Racing team was originally formed as 1Malaysia Racing Team owned by Malaysian tycoon and AirAsia owner Tony Fernandes. Fernandes engaged Proton, owner of Lotus cars and their subsidiary group Group Lotus, to use the name “Lotus Racing” as he ventured into F1 at the beginning of 2010. The team has met with a modicum of success in that they are currently the best of all the new teams that entered F1 in 2010 including HRT and Virgin Racing.

When Fernandes formed his team in late 2009 and announced that he would be running under the name Lotus Racing, there were a series of questions as to which Lotus he was referring too. Was it the classic “Team Lotus” who naming rights were owned by David Hunt, brother of former F1 driver James Hunt, or was Fernandes referring to Lotus cars? Purists were concerned that Fernandes would soil the fine and historic name of Team Lotus but it was pointed out that the name “Team Lotus” did not belong to the Proton group or Fernandes and his 1Malaysian Racing Team would be Lotus Racing, not Team Lotus.

This year, clinging to the success the team has had, Fernandes approached Team Lotus Ventures Ltd. owner David Hunt about using the name “Team Lotus” in 2011. The plot thickened when Lotus Racing chief executive officer Riad Asmat announced they had actually purchased Team Lotus Ventures Ltd from Hunt. This would imply thy now have the right to participate in the 2011 Formula 1 series under the name Team Lotus.

Not so fast––it appear Proton (Group Lotus) have said that Fernandes has no right to use the Lotus brand. In fact, they were terminating the agreement they had with Fernandes to allow him to even use the name Lotus Racing, which is what the team is currently called, for 2011. It seems that Fernandes is intent on using the name and has warned they will take this to British courts to decide.

It seems a bit odd to me that Proton/Group Lotus are beside themselves over the use of the name when they themselves couldn’t secure it or had no rights to it in 2009. Only now, with the success that Fernandes has had and his desire to leave Proton/Group Lotus in favor of his own naming rights and team, that Proton would start claiming brand rights over the name “Team Lotus”.

I am not a British law expert but I find the argument weak that Proton, who had no rights tot he name “Team Lotus” last year, now claim they do. I also find it suspect that Proton now wants to enter into GP2 and GP3 and has a real appetite for racing beyond their sponsorship role in 2010.

Fernandes has outmaneuvered Proton in order to eliminate them from the equation. He needed them to paint he cars green in 2010 but now wants his own show. Some may view that as a tad terse or abusive of a relationship to the point of “using” Proton and when gaining success, he now looks to jettison them as a sponsor and partner. Proton wants to promote Lotus cars and the desire to enter racing series such as GP2 and GP3 makes sense as well as Indycar and Le Mans.

Which camp do you reside in? Who do you feel is right? Let us know your thoughts as we unpack this issue together.

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