The use of the Lotus name in Formula 1 proved one of the most bitter and protracted sagas of recent times but a story that appeared to reach its resolution late last year has today taken a dramatic new turn with the revelation that the recently-rebranded Lotus F1 Team has cut all sponsorship ties with Group Lotus, little more than one season into a seven-year deal.
Genii Capital co-owner Gerard Lopez, whose Luxembourg-based investment company owns the Enstone-based former Renault team outright, has told Autosport that the title sponsorship agreement that he signed with Group Lotus in late 2010 has now been ended, along with the option that existed for the sportscar company to take an equity stake in the team, but never ultimately materialised.
“The sponsorship agreement and the obligations of Lotus have been terminated,” Lopez told Autosport. “There is no option from Group Lotus to buy into F1 now – that option was taken over by us. There was one, but we have taken it over now.”
After Group Lotus’s licencing agreement with Tony Fernandes’s then first-year F1 operation to use the Lotus Racing name broke down acrimoniously towards the end of 2010, the sportscar company and its ambitious CEO Dany Bahar opted to enter F1 in its own right in partnership with Lopez’s team, signing a title sponsorship deal until the end of 2017 with a view to taking on an ownership stake in future.
With Fernandes in parallel taking control of the historic Team Lotus name for 2011, it created the bizarre situation where two Lotus-branded, Renault-powered squads were on the grid – which prompted High Court proceedings. The subsequent verdict handed down retained the status quo before a settlement between the two parties at the end of last season led to Fernandes rebranding his team as Caterham and Lopez rolling out full Lotus branding for 2012.
But while’s today’s revelation means Group Lotus no longer holds a formal role at Enstone, Lopez has indicated he plans for his team to continue running under the Lotus name going forward and Genii is ready to fund any sponsorship shortfall. “We are happy to carry the Lotus name as we believe it is a good name for F1,” he explained. “We funded the team last year and the year before for whatever delta was missing. We would prefer to have sponsors up to the full amount – but if we have to fund it then we will fund it.”
Sir Jackie Stewart, who became a partner of Lopez’s Genii Business Exchange at the start of last year, has become increasingly active in the commerical side of the Lotus F1 Team and recently successfully brought in consumer goods firm Unilever, whose personal care Rexona and Clear brands appear on the E20 this year.
Lopez’s stated intention to carry on racing under the Lotus name wouldn’t represent the first time in recent years that a team has continued to carry the name of a manufacturer no longer actively involved in the team.
Sauber’s official team name remained as BMW Sauber throughout 2010 despite the German manufacturer having exited F1 the previous winter, while indeed Lopez’s team still ran with a Renault chassis last year despite the French carmaker by then only having been the engine supplier. In any case, applications to change chassis names are often a thorny subject in F1 given the names are linked to historical constructors’ championship finishing position payments.
The termination of the Group Lotus deal appears likely to be linked to the uncertainty surrounding the future of the sportscar maker, its struggling parent company Proton having recently been bought into by Malaysian conglomerate DRB-Hicom. Lopez was of course heavily linked to his own takeover of Lotus last year and asked if he would still be interested in buying the British-based company he said: “We don’t know yet, because we really do not know what the new owner wants to do with it.”