Group Lotus, currently owned by Malaysian carmaker Proton, issued a statement on Monday in which it announces it will challenge Tony Fernandes' right to use the Team Lotus name in the 2011 Formula One championship, regardless of the agreement reached between the AirAsia boss and David Hunt.
Additionally, the company also threatened Fernandes to withdraw its financial support for the team in case the Team Lotus name will be used next year.
“We are the owners of this brand, and will take all necessary steps to protect it. Tony Fernandes has no rights to use the Lotus brand in the 2011 Formula One season, and we will strongly resist any attempts by him to use our brand without our permission and will withdraw our sponsorship of the Lotus Racing team,” said Proton Holdings Bhd chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Nadzmi Mohd Salleh.
Not only that, but it seems that the British carmaker Lotus Group has also terminated its licensing agreement with Proton for the use of the Lotus Racing name by Fernandes' team. According to the statement, this measure was taken due to “flagrant and persistent breaches of the licence by (the team), which were damaging to the Lotus brand.”
Consequently, it seems that Fernandes will not be able to use the name “Lotus” all together, not only the “Team Lotus” designation.
“Following that termination, neither 1 Malaysia Racing Team, nor any other company associated with Mr. Fernandes such as Tune Group Sdn Bhd or Team Lotus Ventures Limited, has the authority of Group Lotus to use any "Lotus" brand in the 2011 Formula 1 season. This includes the use of the brand "Team Lotus",” added the statement.
Although the “Team Lotus” rights have been purchased by David Hunt back in 1994, when the team decided to withdraw from F1 due to financial difficulties, Lotus Group insists they are the sole owners of the brand.
“Mr Hunt's attempt to acquire the name Team Lotus (in the 90s) was ineffective. Group Lotus is the owner of all rights in the 'Lotus' automotive brand including those relating to Formula One,” added the statement.
Well, if not Tony Fernandes' team, then who else is going to continue the legacy of the Lotus name in the world of motor racing, you might ask. As you all know – and it was confirmed last week – Lotus will debut a brand new GP2 programme in collaboration with ART Grand Prix in 2011, where it will rival against Fernandes' own GP2 outfit AirAsia.
So the prospect of seeing the 2011 Formula One Championship without the Lotus name may not sit very well with series boss Bernie Ecclestone, but he may not have much to say about it. A reaction from Fernandes and his team is expected at any time.