Tony Fernandes has reacted angrily to comments made at a media briefing yesterday by Group Lotus CEO Danny Bahar and has said that there is now no chance of a deal being struck between the shareholders of his 1 Malaysia operation and Group Lotus, which is owned by Proton.
Speaking to me on the phone from Manila this morning he said of Bahar’s allegation that his demands for a deal were three times the cost of the Renault sponsorship,
“It’s just not true. I can confirm categorically that there was never an offer in any written form and certainly nothing in the region of £60 million. And we were never given an offer (by them). We talked about putting money into the team, equity ownership and he mentioned a similar figure (to the Renault sponsorship deal) of £20 million at the time. But it was talk, they never came back with a firm offer. £20 million is a third of the team’s budget.
“I can’t believe what I’ve read (Bahar’s quotes from yesterday), ” he added. “I don’t know if it’s an attempt to paint us as greedy and villainous. I have to say in the last weeks we’ve seen interviews from Gerard Lopez, Eric Boullier (Lotus Renault GP boss and team principal respectively) and now Danny Bahar and it’s a constant attempt to discredit us. I don’t think it’s right.
“Boullier says we are “trying to fool the fans” – it’s an insult, you can’t fool fans. Fans either like what you are doing or dislike it. Fans can decide if we are or are not credible.
“When you start writing articles like I’ve been seeing over the last few days then I can’t see a deal being worked out because the comments are not helpful and if anything we are further apart than we have ever been. If you were serious about getting a deal then doing all these articles doesn’t really help in negotiating. Unless he’s hoping for enormous political pressure to be brought down on me. But I don’t think so. I’ve run an airline against the national carrier and grown larger than the national carrier, we are a democracy and a country (Malaysia) that respect the rule of the law.”
Asked if he thought the only way to resolve this now is through the courts he said, “I think so.”
Bahar also said yesterday that he was happy to race in F1 using Renault chassis for the next two years but would then look to possibly rename the chassis Lotus under the new 2013 Concorde Agreement. Fernandes said this would not be possible under the rules, ” I don’t see how a new Concorde Agreement would change anything. We would still be the Lotus chassis owner. If the other owners agree to let him call the chassis Group Lotus, then maybe, but I can’t see that.
“And let me ask, are they prepared to change their chassis name and still have their historical money (payments based on previous results)? They were always going to be called Renault. I don’t think they’ve done their research properly.”
This is a reference to the column in the Concorde Agreement which apportions money based on the team’s previous longevity in the sport and its past success.
I called Group Lotus and asked for a response to Fernandes’ comments from Bahar but he declined to comment. I think one of the reasons for this is that he speaks for Group Lotus, whereas Fernandes speaks for himself.
I think what has happened here is that Fernandes did a deal with the previous Lotus management, when the company was in a bad way, for a five year licence to use the Lotus name, thinking that in that time he would be able to assemble backers to buy Group Lotus off Proton. When Behar was recruited he wanted motor sport to be the company’s prime promotional tool and put a stop to the licence deal with Fernandes. He didn’t want to do the obvious thing and join forces with Fernandes’ Norfolk based team partly because of an ego clash, but also because he doesn’t think the current Lotus team is good enough. He doesn’t see Lotus as an underdog brand but as a front of the grid brand and wanted to get there as quickly as possible.
He seems in an awful hurry and it could be argued that to build a new five car range of cars as well as roll out a full motorsport programme involving sportscars, GP2, GP3 is taking on a lot already, without throwing in a huge F1 programme.
F1 inside opinion is divided on this – some feel sympathy for Bahar on the basis that he controls the Lotus brand and Fernandes has no real connection with it beyond a friendship with the Chapman family and the rights to Team Lotus. Others feel that Fernandes is a proven achiever through his airline and has done a good, honest job with reviving Lotus in F1 and has the right plan for moving forward in future.
Either way it now seems that the opportunity for seeking a peaceful resolution is receding and that the High Court case next summer will ultimately decide whether Fernandes has the right to race as Team Lotus with a Lotus chassis.