Group Lotus boss Dany Bahar has added to the increasingly ugly spat between his organisation and the Lotus Racing / ‘Team Lotus’ F1 operation run by Tony Fernandes, claiming that the Malaysian airline magnate was approached to broker a deal for an official tie-up with the Proton-owned carmaker.
However, Bahar claims, Fernandes’ asking price was absurdly high to the point that his organisation had little choice but to opt for the cheaper route of buying into Renault, which was announced last week.
“A question that has come up many times was why did you not find an amicable solution with Tony Fernandes? Well we tried,” he told reporters during a Lotus media lunch at London’s Royal Automobile Club.
“When the counter-proposals are so ridiculous and absurd, it makes no sense to continue these discussions. And if you can go with a top five-team that is maybe one-third of the cost that was asked by the other side, then that makes sense,” he added.
“By buying into an existing one which is well financed, which has the right partners in there, it was just the more conservative approach and we just wanted to fight at the top end of the grid,” he continued. “And that should not sound disrespectful to anyone, but we have such an ambitious plan ahead of us, we don’t want to lose time and we want to support the brand out there.”
What was more interesting was his answer to the question of whether it would have been more sensible to set up a tie-in with Lotus Racing, rather than branching off into the confused situation that may see two teams calling themselves ‘Lotus Renault’ in 2011.
“Yes, I think [that solution would be ideal]. If the price had been right and if some conditions would have been more realistic, then I believe this would have been the right approach,” he answered.
But it seems that one of the reasons the deal fell through – asking price aside – may be that Fernandes didn’t want to relinquish partial control of the running of the team…
“We were not afraid of partnering with Mr Fernandes, but as I said, there is one way that Lotus does business – and this is getting involved and not just putting the logo on the car. We need to be involved in the management. We need to take decisions together. We need to fund it together as well … but it cannot just be that we are seen as a sponsor, we pay the cheque and everything else is run by someone else. That is something that we will never do … There were many elements that meant we could not find the deal.”
And Bahar also rejected suggestions that he is somehow the bad guy in the entire dispute, where much of the public support has been on Fernandes’ side.
“The public perception is I am the bad guy and I am doing everything I can to sabotage them; this is complete nonsense,” he said.
“We have to see it a little bit from a reality point of view. We believe F1 is a very good way to flag our brand values for now and for the future. It is the right transportation if you want – and absolutely 100 per cent what we communicate for the future. From that perspective everyone is in agreement.”
The two outfits now face what could dissolve into an ugly legal brawl over the rightful use of the Lotus moniker in 2011, with Fernandes claiming he has bought rights to the ‘Team Lotus’ name, while Group Lotus is claiming that it is the sole rights holder. But Bahar holds out hopes that common sense will prevail that will end the current confusion surrounding the use of the Lotus name.
“Will be there be four Lotus cars or two Lotus teams out there? I have no idea. My personal opinion is I don’t believe so. I think our shareholders and the other team will probably get to an amicable solution, I hope so, but if not there is always a court who will decide who is right and who is wrong.
“We do not crave to be Team Lotus. We do not want to be Team Lotus. We do not want to change our name to Team Lotus. That is not us. It was a glorious past … Team Lotus should be kept where it is. It is a glorious brand. They achieved a lot and they should rest in peace. We as Group Lotus and Chapman himself used Lotus to promote the cars, and we will be doing the same. We are not doing anything wrong; it is what the brand has always done. We see it as a marketing tool … We are not fighting to be Team Lotus.”
The battle will no doubt continue…
[Original image via Automotive Horizon]