On the Friday prior to last weekend's Singapore Grand Prix, team boss Tony Fernandes confirmed the acquisition of the Team Lotus rights from David Hunt (through Team Lotus Ventures) who had purchased it himself back in 1994. Additionally, the Lotus Racing officially announced that his team will revive the Team Lotus name in F1 starting next season.
Yesterday however, Proton issued a statement in which it warned Fernandes' team not to use the name in F1, as the rights belong to Lotus Group and not Hunt. And the reaction from Lotus Racing's CEO Riad Asmat came a few hours later, begging to differ.
“This has been an incredible year for everyone associated with Lotus Racing. Last week we brought Team Lotus back to the Formula One grid when we announced that we had bought Team Lotus Ventures from David Hunt, and would be racing as the successor to one of the most iconic names in world motorsport,” said Riad in a long statement on Monday.
“This year, we have established ourselves as the leading new team in Formula One as a licensee of Group Lotus, and, although we all dreamt of bringing Team Lotus back to where it belongs, we could not do so in 2010 because those rights were owned by Team Lotus Ventures.”
“As Tune Group has now bought Team Lotus Ventures it means we can now use the Team Lotus name for 2011 and beyond. We are all delighted we can go into 2011 with total confidence in what we own, and what we can take to the track.”
Additionally, Asmat confirmed that his squad has already began legal proceedings to the English High Court “for a declaration that Team Lotus Ventures has the rights to use the Team Lotus name and everything associated with that brand in relation to Formula One.”
“David was approached a number of times about selling the rights of Team Lotus Ventures, including one official offer of from Proton / Group Lotus themselves. That must have been tempting for David, as the rightful owner of the Team Lotus brand and its rights.”
“Oddly enough, Group Lotus also recently tried to revoke the Team Lotus trade marks at a hearing at the Trade Mark Registry, but they were unsuccessful. I suspect David's misgivings about their previous offer to buy were justified by that action.”
He also confirmed the fact that the F1 team's deal with Proton was for a one year only, and the amount of money invested by the Malaysian company accounted for solely 1.5% of the total budget for 2010.
“The licence debate really is a non-issue. It was a simple licence, attached to a one year sponsorship deal with Proton for 2010 alone, and in fact for a tiny proportion of the amount invested by the shareholders into the team - approximately 1.5% of the total budget.”
“Unfortunately we never reached the point where we discussed extending that one year deal. When we signed our licence to compete as Lotus Racing with Group Lotus, they were very clear that we could not make any reference to Team Lotus as they had no rights at all to the Team Lotus name or its rights.”
“In fact, in the licence agreement between 1Malaysia Racing and Group Lotus the use of the Team Lotus name is expressly prohibited as they had agreed contractually, as long ago as 1985, that they had not rights to use that name.”
“That was obviously something we had enormous respect for, and made no attempt to change until we could do so rightfully, and with a very clear understanding of what we had acquired in Team Lotus Ventures.”
“So now the licence we ran under this year has been withdrawn by Group Lotus, and while we accept that this obviously means we have reached the end of that chapter, it opens up a new and very exciting one for everyone in our team.”
“There will have to be some discussions with Proton and Group Lotus about the entitlement to terminate the licence. Frankly, they are trying to say that some very trivial points, including t-shirt design approvals of all things, gave them the right to terminate, but we thoroughly reject this,” ended Asmat.