Lotus F1 court battle to start next week

The opening High Court hearing into who can use the Lotus name in Formula One is set to be held next week.

Hingham-based Team Lotus – who ran as Lotus Racing in their firsts season in 2010 – and the new Lotus Renault team – which Hethel-based manufacturer Group Lotus has signed up with as a title sponsor – have been locked in a bitter dispute over who can carry the famous Norfolk marque in motorsport's marquee series.

Team Lotus principal Tony Fernandes bought the rights to the original Formula One team, which collapsed due to financial problems in 1994, from the man who tried to save it, David Hunt.

That followed the decision by Group Lotus' Malaysian owners Proton to cancel in September the original five-year licence granted to Fernandes to use the Lotus name.

Group Lotus – founded by Colin Chapman alongside his original Team Lotus set-up – subsequently announced a �100m seven year sponsorship of the Renault F1 team.

Team Lotus are confident their purchase is legitimate and will argue that fact in court, as well being allowed to race under their new name and questioning the legitimacy of Group Lotus' reasons for terminating their original licence.

And while Group Lotus chief executive Dany Bahar admitted in public he is happy for Lotus to get double the exposure should two Lotus teams take to the F1 grid in 2011, company bosses want to keep any confusion to a minimum: meaning only one team using the Lotus name in F1.

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A summary judgment, where the court comes to a decision without a full trial, is scheduled for Monday or Tuesday next week.

During the hearing Team Lotus are expecting the judge to declare that all the facts are difficult to establish – meaning a full trial that would not arrive before the autumn, and after a significant amount of the 2011 Formula One season.

So the door could remain open for a potential out of court settlement, something Bahar has repeatedly suggested.

However, his opposite number at Team Lotus – Riad Asmat – still believes it is 'feasible' for two Lotus teams to run in F1.

Bahar may yet have another issue on his plate, after concerns were raised in Canada over whether Lotus Renault's new black and gold livery – based on the iconic colours of the John Player Special Lotuses of the 1970s and 1980s – could succumb to the country's anti-tobacco advertising laws.

An Imperial Tobacco spokesman said: 'It is categorically against the law to present any likeness to a cigarette pack; if I were Lotus (Renault) ... I would be concerned.'

Following the public falling out with Group Lotus, which has run for five months, Team Lotus driver Jarno Trulli admitted: 'I think it has motivated a lot of people here. They can argue and they can go to court, but at the end of the day the people understand what Team Lotus is and why it is doing what it is doing.

'In my opinion Tony is doing the right thing, even though we feel a bit sad about the row.'

Norwich-born Team Lotus chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne added: 'This year's car is a much more contemporary design. The car really will be a midfield runner.

'I'm very confident it is a big step up and it's the start of a process that takes Team Lotus back to the front of the grid.

'We have to step up into the midfield and be racing Toro Ross, Sauber, Force India, Williams even. But I'm very confident about our development and where we're going from an engineering perspective.

'I think our goals are rising up from that and there is something personal about it. Certainly by the end of the year we want to be beating a team like Renault and I think we can be doing that.'

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