Team Lotus may change name and move out of Norfolk
Norfolk may lose its Formula One team this winter after Tony Fernandes admitted Team Lotus need 'a new home' and could drop their Lotus connection for good.
The Hingham outfit arrived as one of three new teams on the F1 grid in 2010 with the promise to bring the Lotus marque back to motorsport's marquee formula.
But a bitter legal dispute with Hethel car manufacturer Group Lotus, ongoing since June 2010, has sullied the best laid plans of Fernandes and Norwich-born chief technical officer Mike Gacoyne to revive Team Lotus – despite winning a number of key battles in the High Court.
What is more, the motorsport constructor – which includes the Caterham Team Air Asia outfit in F1's feeder series, GP2 – is looking to move part its racing operation out of Norfolk.
Sites close to Silverstone and Formula One peers Williams have been mooted as a new home for Fernandes' team – the latter would help tie in with Team Lotus' deal to share technological and wind tunnel resources with the Grove-based constructor.
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Plans for Team Lotus to build a wind tunnel of their own at Hingham have been put back indefinitely, while logistical issues to and from the Norfolk village have played their part in Team Lotus looking elsewhere.
Sources at Hingham say no decision has been made on which parts or how much of the team will leave Hingham – as well as confirming the Norfolk factory will remain a key base for the group's future work.
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Yet the loss of globally-known and prestigious racing outfits from the county will be a blow to the region's economy and motorsport fans alike.
'I think the best scenario is that the cars leave for Australia next year (the first race of the 2012 season) and come back to a new home,' Fernandes told Autosport during the weekend's Italian Grand Prix.
'There's no two ways about it – but Hingham will always be there, because we've got composites and we are developing a technology and engineering division.'
While Fernandes' team, which started life as Lotus Racing last year, is expected to keep its yellow and green colour scheme for 2012 the Malaysian entrepreneur will most likely drop the Team Lotus moniker and Lotus chassis – with Fernandes' own sports car manufacturer Caterham primed to be the focus for his future racing team.
Air Asia founder Fernandes' latest moves are believed to originate from his purchase of Malaysian Airlines off the Asian country's government, who also own Group Lotus' parent company Proton.
In return, the Team Lotus boss will pave the way for Hethel's Group Lotus to turn their �120m sponsorship of the Renault F1 team into a fully owned and renamed Lotus outfit.
'I always had a problem with 'Am I really Team Lotus?'' Fernandes added. 'I always said that era was theirs, we were just bringing it back under new ownership. It was up to the fans whether they liked us or not.
'But there was a business behind it as well. You can't have a name and not monetise it. Effectively we are marketing someone else. I don't think this is healthy for anyone – Lotus Renault, Team Lotus, whomever.
'I've always said that protecting the brand is paramount and it's not me that started all this.
'I didn't have a claim, they (Group Lotus) had a claim. And they lost that case. But I've always had the door open and it may be a win-win for everybody and we walk away.
'I also always said we wanted to be in the car business and I never hid that fact. And now we have Caterham.'