Formula One’s Lotus battle is over
After 18 months of court cases and public spats, the fight to use Norfolk's iconic Lotus marque in Formula One has been resolved.
An F1 Commission meeting in Geneva on Thursday accepted a motion for the Group Lotus-backed Renault team, based at Enstone in Oxfordshire, to rename its Renault chassis to Lotus from next season.
Alongside that decision, Hingham's Team Lotus also had their request accepted to become Caterham – both in team name and chassis.
It remains to be seen whether the Lotus Renault GP outfit, backed by Hethel and that raced in black and gold this season, will also change its name for next season.
The changes must be ratified at the next FIA World Council meeting on December 7, but that is expected to be a formality.
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The applications were brought forward by both teams in a show of collaboration somewhat removed since the bitter – and confusing – naming issue kicked off last year.
Having arrived in F1 for the 2010 season under the licensed name Lotus Racing, Tony Fernandes' Norfolk team saw that permission revoked by Group Lotus six months into the season – as the Hethel car company announced its own intension to invest in the former world championship-winning French team.
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Fernandes' Hingham outfit responded, buying the naming rights for the original Team Lotus constructor – defunct since 1994 – from David Hunt.
That left the prospect of two teams and four cars claiming the rights, goodwill and history to one of Formula One's greatest constructors at the start of this season.
Insults, counter claims – and even fights over the colours of the cars – were to follow before a High Court battle in the spring attempted to resolve the issue. In reality, all that did was give the go-ahead for both sides to continue as they were and earn the lawyers a lot of money.
In the end, Fernandes' inability to bring Group Lotus into line with his new green and yellow Formula One team left him looking for a plan B – which came along in the shape of small Dartford-based sports car manufacturer Caterham, which he bought earlier this year.
Following another round of High Court exchanges in the summer, both sides' mood for compromise changed – leading to yesterday's successful proposal to the F1 Commission for next season and beyond.
While Lotus fans will have a clear focus for their affections from next season, Norfolk F1 fans may feel torn. Team Lotus – which runs under a Malaysian licence – are set to move their Formula One operation out of the factory they own at Hingham, to a new base near Silverstone.
However, the extent of the team to be relocated has yet to be sorted with the extended Team Lotus business staying in Hingham.
As for British team Lotus Renault, they will continue to be based in Oxfordshire albeit under Norfolk's famous marque.
While the naming battle has clearly been a source of irritation to Fernandes and the team's Norwich-born chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne, the loss of their originally conceived plan to bring Lotus back to the Formula One grid will be felt.
Group Lotus' success may also point to Genii Capital – the owners of the Renault F1 team – buying a significant stake in the Hethel company, currently owned by Malaysian car firm Proton.
In a third proposed name change for next season, Team Lotus' fellow 2010 new boys Virgin Racing will rename their Virgin chassis Marussia after the Russian sports car manufacturer and constructor's major investor.