The application for summary judgement in the London High Court today in the dispute between Group Lotus and Team Lotus failed, but it has brought forward the actual hearing, so both sides have won and lost something today.
Wanting to get the confusion over Lotus in F1 sorted before the start of the season, Group Lotus brought about the application for summary judgement, something that can be achieved in a week or so and which, if successful, means that the judge dismisses the case because the evidence is so open and shut. That did not happen today, which is a small win for Team Lotus, owned by 1Malaysia group. The judge, Justice Peter Smith decided that there was definitely a case to be heard.
But he also ruled that, as the dispute had gone on long enough already, the case will now begin on March 21, between the Bahrain and Australian Grands Prix, much sooner than 1 Malaysia was anticipating. A ruling is therefore possible by the end of the month, by which time there will be have been just two Grands Prix. If the result goes Group Lotus’s way there will have been only a brief period during the season of two Lotus teams overlapping on the grid.
“We remain confident that we will succeed at the full trial and we can now focus on the challenges ahead in the 2011 FIA Formula One™ World Championship,” said a Team Lotus statement tonight.
Meanwhile Team Lotus boss Tony Fernandes tweeted, “Very very happy over the judgment today. And extremely happy that full trial brought forward to March 21st. The good do always eventually win.”
This case was actually launched by the 1Malaysia side and it was over the sudden termination of the five year licence from Group Lotus. Allegedly the grounds given for termination were over a merchandising T shirt design.
Although there have been faultlines in the way Team Lotus relates to Group Lotus for many years and Group Lotus has in recent years taken steps to close off the areas in which Team Lotus has the right to use the Lotus name, it was only after last year’s Singapore Grand Prix that this current row blew up, which promises to decide the matter once and for all.
1Malaysia boss Tony Fernandes acquired the Team Lotus rights from David Hunt and announced it in Singapore. Group Lotus immediately reacted saying that, “With Proton’s agreement, Group Lotus has now terminated its licence to 1 Malaysia Racing Team to use the “Lotus Racing” brand in the 2011 and future Formula 1 seasons as a result of the flagrant and persistent breaches of the licence by 1 Malaysia Racing Team, which were damaging to the “Lotus” brand.”
1 Malaysia’s response was to apply to the High Court and launch the action which will now be heard in March. Team CEO Riad Asmat said at the time, “We think now is the time to clear this matter up so there can be no further arguments. We have therefore today issued proceedings in the English High Court for a declaration that Team Lotus Ventures has the rights to use the Team Lotus name and everything associated with that brand in relation to Formula 1.”
As it’s a legal matter it could go either way, going to law is always a risky business however good a case either side might feel it has.
What is surprising about today’s development is that the matter will be resolved much more quickly than Team Lotus was expecting. From their point of view a longer lead time would mean two Lotus teams on the grid for most of the season and a sense of normality perhaps beginning to surround that. Group Lotus just wants them to stop racing as Lotus, leaving the way clear for them to completely rebrand the existing Renault team, ultimately renaming the chassis to finish the job off.