Michael Bailey: The Lotus dream that became a nightmare

Little more than two years ago, I was tasked with giving Mike Gascoyne a call as it came to light Norfolk's iconic Lotus marque was returning to the Formula One grid.

'I am Norfolk born and bred,' said Gascoyne at the time. 'For me to continue my F1 career under the banner of the Team Lotus name and help to bring it back to its deserving place in the world championship is a fantastic feeling and something that I am extremely proud to be doing.'

Understandbly, none of us banked on the ride, High Court battles, public spats and on-track action we have all been treated to since.

But what became clear during this weekend's Italian Grand Prix is that Team Lotus owner Tony Fernandes is expected to let go of the Norfolk badge that Colin Chapman built – and most likely rename his constructor Caterham F1 from 2012 onwards.

After all, advertising your own small sports car manufacturer makes much more sense than publicising someone else's.


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When that is confirmed, Hethel's Group Lotus should then be free – if it can still afford it – to complete its purchase of the Renault F1 team and rename it Lotus, as well as aiming to do likewise with the chassis.

For the two main parties – if not for others involved in the merry-go-round – the deal makes sense.

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What is far more disappointing in this part of the world is the news a portion of Fernandes' operation will be leaving its Hingham base, moving near to Silverstone and closer to its two technical partners: Red Bull Racing in Milton Keynes, and Williams in Oxfordshire.

The gearboxes come from Red Bull, while Team Lotus' wind tunnel work is being done at Grove from this month – and quite simply, why make life difficult by taking trucks and parts through Elveden every week.

Off the record, sources at Hingham are keen to stress they will be keeping their current base, most likely for Team Lotus Group's work on its growing engineering and composite businesses – coincidentally, exactly what Group Lotus is leaving behind as it focuses all efforts on producing road cars.

There has also been no official confirmation of exactly how much Team Lotus will be moving out – the entire F1 factory, design studio, backroom staff or all the bits in between. You wonder where the team call home in future.

A continued presence is obviously better than none at all, but the F1 work is the jewel in the crown. It is where the money goes and, for the village of Hingham, where it comes in.

What hurts some most is what had been promised. Even as late as this year's British Grand Prix the public plan was making the site at Hingham – which the team owns – bigger and better. One befitting the home of an ambitious outfit.

A brand new wind tunnel facility has planning permission and was set to be delivered over the next 12 months – it is now on the back burner.

Hingham was part of the team's identity, despite its Malaysian links. A coup for the region and those working at Team Lotus – some now wondering whether they will have to relocate.

The county's F1 supporters will no doubt wonder where they should place their loyalties – both Fernandes' team and the ex-Renault outfit should maintain an indirect Norfolk connection of some sort.

But then, F1 is a global sport – maybe geography plays an ever-diminishing role for fans. After all, who here doesn't like to see a McLaren win?

That said, Fernandes' 2010 Lotus Racing and 2011 Team Lotus guises won a lot of goodwill thanks to the name – far more than fellow new boys Virgin and Hispania.

And despite a lot of money going through the courts, they are prepared to lose that goodwill – not only from motorsport fans across the world, but those closer to home, looking for a Norfolk-based team to cheer.

After just two years and some previously grand plans for their Hingham home, that would be the biggest shame of all.

• Win number eight came Sebastian Vettel's way in Monza – and for the first time this season, it took the shine off all that scrapping for places down the field.

Once again, no one could match Vettel's pace in qualifying or the race, when the 2010 champion took another grand prix by the scruff of its neck and held all his rivals at bay. The boy really is relentless.

Team-mate Mark Webber has the same car – but hasn't been able to keep up.

'I think we're all battling for second now,' said the Australian. 'Seb needs to have a very, very incredibly disappointing finish to the season for anyone to take the championship off him.

'He's in a great position. He's done a great job. And clearly the car was good today, so it was a missed opportunity for me.'

Webber is right. The German is currently 112 points ahead of Fernando Alonso in the drivers' standings with six races to go – or, if you like, 150 points on offer heading into Singapore.

Leave Marina Bay with eight points added to his lead and Vettel will be the first driver to successfully defend his title since Alonso in 2006 – and all with Japan, Korea, India, Abu Dhabi and Brazil still to come.

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