Lotus court battle set for full trial in March

The battle over the Lotus naming rights has been scheduled for a full trial in just two months' time.

At a summary judgment hearing in the High Court yesterday, Mr Justice Peter Smith urged both parties – Hethel-based Group Lotus and Hingham-based 1Malaysia Racing Team, known as Team Lotus – to attempt to settle the matter out of court.

If no resolution is reached the case will then be heard on March 21, sandwiched between the opening two grands prix of the coming season in Bahrain and Australia, and will likely last around 10 days.

It had been anticipated a trial would not occur until towards the end of the season, potentially even at some stage next winter.

Mr Justice Smith's decision left lawyers for both sides apparently stunned, although F1 is none the wiser as to who will end up the winner in this ongoing feud.

The issue is on two fronts, with 1Malaysia – who competed as Lotus Racing in 2010 – claiming Group Lotus illegally terminated a five-year licence for them to run under the iconic Norfolk marque.

1Malaysia, fronted by owner and team principal Tony Fernandes, are also insisting they can legally run under the Team Lotus name this season. Fernandes claims he bought the rights to use the original racing moniker – conceived by founder Colin Chapman – from former owner David Hunt, brother of 1976 world champion James.

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Mark Daniels, an intellectual property lawyer at Browne Jacobson, said: 'Team Lotus will be buoyed by this news, but it remains far from clear as to whether its claim will ultimately be successful. The barrier for a claim overcoming summary dismissal is not that great.

'The court impressed on the parties that they should seek to settle the dispute before the season begins. If they fail, it will proceed to trial. There are sure to be a few more twists and turns in this particular race.'

Group Lotus' racing division, Lotus Motorsport, also announced yesterday that 1992 world champion Nigel Mansell – given his F1 break in 1980 with Lotus – is to become an brand ambassador for the Hethel firm.