Lotus CEO Danny Bahar hosted a small group of media at the RAC Club in London today, of which I was one, to lay out his vision for Lotus in F1 and road cars. He didn’t say much about his rival Tony Fernandes, who has been using the Lotus name in F1 this season. However he did say that he tried to do a deal with him, but the Malaysian wanted too much money,
But Tony Fernandes has denied this, “Complete rubbish,” he said. ” We never ever talked about numbers. Proton paid us US$ 1 million in sponsorship. I offered him to be joint venture partners, I offered share swap, we did everything. if he gave use $20 million (believed to be the level of the Lotus sponsorship of Renault) he could have got so much out of it. He would be in Norfolk, sponsoring a team that own Team Lotus. He would have Clive Chapman down the road and together we could all have worked together to bring Lotus to greater heights in three years.”
Bahar explained that the reason why Fernandes’ team was granted a licence to race as Lotus is because the previous management of the car company, backed by the Malaysian Proton management, thought it would be a good idea. But then when Bahar joined, he laid out his vision which is to promote the car brand via motorsport, ploughing all the budget that would normally go on advertising into motorsport as a prmotional vehicle. And with that strategy then it made no sense not to be in F1.
But he clearly doesn’t feel that getting involved in Fernandes ‘ team was the right thing to do, nor did he have any serious attempt to buy the Team Lotus rights from David Hunt, clearly believing that he didn’t need to; as he controlled the Lotus brand, “no judge in the world could stop me promoting my brand in F1.”
He said at one point, “We don’t claim to be Team Lotus, and we don’t want to be. It has a glorious past, but Team Lotus should be kept where it was, it should rest in peace. ”
Lotus will build its own sports racing cars, it already has a customer base for those, so it will break even on that programme, whereas the GP2 and GP3 programmes and the F1 programme will cost money, which Bahar classifies as promotional money. Bahar dismissed the idea of doing his own team and thus felt the Renault deal was the right way to go, seeing as Genii Capital, which owns Renault F1, was already engaged with Lotus and Proton in discussions about collaboration on road cars,
“But we would not have the courage to build a new team from scratch,” he said, “So we took the more conservative approach. We want to fight at the top end of the grid. We understand that for the next two years we need to learn about F1, the car will be a Renault and so on, but then when we have a new Concorde Agreement, hopefully (in 2013) we can possibly change the name, we’ll see where we are and learn over two years.”
So he has sponsored the Renault team for two years with an option for a third at around $20 million a year and will buy a major stake in the team, somewhere between 25% and 50% from Genii.
The backing for Lotus from the Malaysian Government via Proton is significant; working on the basis that a sportscar costs £150 million to develop, Lotus has the funding for the five sportscars it plans to launch in its range – £800m was the level Bahar spoke about today. The company has lost money for many years and Proton had the choice of selling it or going for it with a big investment push. Bahar has come along with an “ambitious and super aggressive plan” as he puts it, to build Lotus into a British Porsche, selling a range of cars from the current entry level sports car up to something a Porsche or Ferrari customer might want to buy. He is targetting the Asian market in particular, leveraging the dealer network relationships Proton has in the region, which these days distribute the full range of cars from runabouts to super luxury.
Bahar doesn’t believe that there will be four cars on the grid next year with Lotus in the name and nor does he believe that it will end up in a legal battle. He thinks that the shareholders of both sides will strike some sort of peace deal, “This will be a high level deal, well above my level,” Bahar added.
A gentle reminder to readers – Don’t miss the Christmas deadline for ordering the JA on F1 season Review book. If you want one for your loved one (or yourself!) December 22nd is the last date for UK postage to be sure of arriving in time for Christmas. It’s sold very well so far, there should still be books available up to Christmas, but not for long after at this rate.