Tony Fernandes says that following the judgement delivered last Friday on the Lotus vs Team Lotus row, he has no need to change his chassis name, as his rivals claim.
The judge in the High Court ruled that Team Lotus, owned by Fernandes’ consortium, had the right to race in F1, and that their rights came with the logo and the goodwill. However he also ruled that they are not to use the name “Lotus” on its own.
Rivals from the Group Lotus-sponsored Renault team, claim that this means Fernandes will not be able to continue to use Lotus as his chassis name in the official entry list. But speaking to me from Bali by phone yesterday Fernandes said that this was part of the goodwill of the team,
“We own the goodwill of Team Lotus and the team has always raced with the chassis name Lotus, ” he said. “We don’t have to change it.”
This is an important point because Concorde Agreement rules state that a team’s chassis name is the most important identifier (team names change with sponsors and so on) but if a team wishes to change its chassis name it needs support from the F1 commission, which is made up of all the teams, plus some sponsors, promoters, FOM and FIA. If it doesn’t have that support, it can still change the name but it must forfeit its prize money for the season.
Team Lotus would be likely not to have the support of Virgin and HRT as they would stand to benefit from the forfeited money. And of course Renault wouldn’t go out of their way to help either.
But another team principal indicated to me that if everyone else on the F1 commission voted with Fernandes, he would probably have enough votes to make the change.
Time will tell if it comes to that.
Group Lotus have said that they will appeal the judge’s ruling, so things stay as they are for the moment. Fernandes doesn’t believe however that there is the stomach for an appeal in Malaysian government circles.
“For an appeal to succeed they need something fundamental to change, ” he said. “The judgement is clear. I don’t know if Proton (Group Lotus’ owners) has the stomach to go on. I’m not concerned anyway.”
Fernandes’ original plan was to race under a licence from Group Lotus, establish the Lotus brand in F1 and then reverse take-over the car company. The arrival at Group Lotus of Dany Bahar stopped that plan in its tracks.
Bahar terminated the licence, citing a breach of its terms in relation to some merchandising that Fernandes’ team had produced – “We were sloppy on that,” admits Fernandes.
This termination was ruled valid by the judge in his verdict on Friday, as was Lotus Renault’s right to race in black and gold livery (Fernandes claimed that this was part of Team Lotus’ goodwill)
There will be some damages to pay there by Fernandes’ side.
Faced with his licence being terminated, Fernandes had to activate plan B last September, which was to acquire the rights to Team Lotus, which David Hunt had owned for some time. However this move lost Fernandes the support of the Champman family, who sided with Bahar at this point, saying that Fernandes had promised them he would not revive Team Lotus. This was also a clause in the licence agreement.
Fernandes says now that Group Lotus’ mistake was in not buying up the Team Lotus rights from Hunt when they had the chance. “If they’d done that we’d have been toast,” he said.
I asked Bahar several months ago why he hadn’t done this and he said it was because they believed that the Team Lotus rights didn’t have any value to them.
Although many observers feel that Fernandes does not yet have a clear mandate to press on, while an appeal is pending, he considers the judgement to be clear and now plans to push the marketing button on the Caterham side. The team is likely to become Team Lotus Caterham shortly.
“This is the final piece of our strategy jigsaw now. We have the Team Lotus name, we have the F1 team, we have goodwill, we have the roundel and we have the jewel in Caterham, ” he said.
“This decision gives us the strategy to move forward, which we are very, very happy about. We will use the F1 team to provide the car company with exposure, and we are looking at bringing out a couple more brands.
“I’m philosophical about it; the irony is that if we hadn’t had this case I would never have bought Caterham.”