When is a Lotus a Lotus?

Confusion reigns over which Lotus is Lotus.
A Buxton photoshop job

So it is official. Lotus will return to Formula 1 next year.

What do you mean aren’t they already in F1? Haven’t you been paying attention?

It’s all just such a mess, isn’t it? Even working within the sport it is testing my patience and confusing the hell out of me so goodness knows how this situation is supposed to translate to the wider world outside the gated confines of the F1 paddock. I guess like most things F1, it will appear to be a big squabble over relatively little by a bunch of rich people who really should know better.

The fact is that as things stand we’re set to have two teams in F1 next season known as Lotus Renault.

One of them is the team who entered Formula 1 in 2010 as Lotus Racing but who will next season become known as Team Lotus and will use Renault engines.

The other is a team which started its life in 1981 as Toleman, became Benetton, then Renault and is now still Renault although Renault no longer owns the team which is now instead owned in the most part by Genii Capital and in a minority by Group Lotus. Group Lotus will become the team’s title sponsor in 2011 thus creating Lotus Renault.

It seems pretty simple but it has led to much confusion, especially as both teams are expected to run the same livery next season. The announcement of Renault (Genii)’s link up with Group Lotus was made with an image of how their car will look next season, paying homage to the classic JPS Lotus livery of the 1970s and 1980s. And here came the first stink… because Lotus Racing / Team Lotus had already said they’d be switching to the Black and Gold colour scheme next year and has now apparently been beaten to the punch.

I’ve been a big fan of Lotus Racing / Team Lotus from the outset and so I immediately thought this was a bit of a petty move by Group Lotus. However it is worth noting that on November 6th, respected French journalist Jean-Louis Moncet reported on his blog that: “I add today, 6 November, at 15h42, a story that will change the hearts of lovers of beautiful Formula 1. One of my very good friends called me and said: “Jean-Louis, everything you say about Renault, Genii Capital, of Renault in 2011, and Lotus is true, but one thing … What? “You’ve got the wrong color, it will not be green, but black and gold. -To recall JPS? “Of course.” What emotion!”

Lotus Racing then announced on November 11th that it would be switching from Green and Yellow to Black and Gold in 2011. So you’ve got to ask the question, who was trying to out-do who?

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Lotus Racing wasn’t aware of Moncet’s blog or Renault and Group Lotus’ plans to switch to Black and Gold… it would have made sense for Lotus Racing to switch to the Black and Gold as Lotus Group in its sponsorship of Takuma Sato in Indycar, and in its proposed livery for ART in GP2 and GP3 used the Green and Yellow utilised by Lotus Racing in F1 in 2010. Why, then, would Group Lotus choose anything other than the Green and Yellow for F1? A switch to Black and Gold by Lotus Racing, as another classic Lotus livery, would have been a way to keep everyone happy. Now we have two teams due to run the same livery.

Another classic Lotus livery

Frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if Lotus Racing / Team Lotus keeps its Green and Yellow, but then that’ll just confuse everyone who watches GP2 and GP3 as they’ll think the ART cars are Team Lotus when in fact they’re Group Lotus. Of course it does mean that DAMS, who this year ran the Renault F1 livery, can keep the Renault F1 livery and then we’ll have two Lotus liveries in GP2 – ART in Green and Yellow and DAMS in Black and Gold. Add in the fact that Team Lotus boss Tony Fernandes will be running his Air Asia team in GP2 next season, and I reckon he should field a Yellow and Blue livery reminiscent of the old Camel Lotus, and then we’ll have three Lotus liveries in GP2! Huzzah! He could even field Bruno Senna and Kazuki Nakajima if he wanted to bring the Camel Lotus and 1987 line-up back.

Back to F1 though… and here’s where it all gets a bit confusing.

Lotus Renault, as in Lotus Racing / Team Lotus, will continue to have its cars classified as Lotus in Formula 1 results. Lotus Renault, as in Group Lotus, will continue to have its cars classified as Renault in Formula 1 results.

Group Lotus has said that it has formed its alliance with Genii Capital and Renault because it wants to be successful in Formula 1 to help sell cars on the road, and that it does not see the point in making the expense of struggling from the back of the grid to the front. It wants immediate success.

But its concept is flawed, because as of right now and despite its 25% stake in the team, the results will show as Renault results, not Lotus. Lotus, at the Enstone-based team, is a title sponsor. It is not a constructor. The right, in F1 terms at least, to represent the Lotus name rests with Tony Fernandes’ team, and in Fernandes’ team sits the ultimate philosophy of Colin Chapman that success comes from hard graft. There remains a nagging cynicism towards the Group Lotus method of ponying off the results of an already successful team and expecting the world to believe it is anything other than what it is.

Group Lotus has admitted that its link up with Renault is the first part of a greater involvement in the sport, but it is when Group Lotus wishes to have the team into which it has invested show up as Lotus that we are going to have the biggest mess of all. It can’t switch its name from Renault without unanimous approval from the other teams under the current Concorde Agreement, and for as long as Tony Fernandes is present in Formula 1 that unanimous vote needed for the team to switch its name from Renault to Lotus simply isn’t going to happen. Perhaps that’s what Fernandes is counting on, either from the perspective of keeping his team name and forcing Dany Bahar and Group Lotus back out of the sport, or in succeeding in where some voices within the sport believe his intentions have laid from the start – namely to force Group Lotus into either selling to him, or into paying him over the odds for claiming back the Lotus name in F1.

Bahar and Group Lotus have also insisted that their link up with the Renault F1 team is proof that their view of Formula 1 is one of progression and of the future. But to that I simply ask this? Why then all this silliness with a retro livery? If you want to look to the future, then why dwell in the past?

And cynics will ask why the Union flag? It is Renault, a French team, which has been bought out in the majority by a Luxembourg company and in the minority by a Malaysian company…

However I feel that Union flag is justified, for if there is one sure thing in all of this it is in the capabilities of the team we used to call Renault. The team based at Enstone. The team which started its life as Toleman.

What the boys at Enstone have proved year on year is that it really doesn’t matter what they’re called, they’ve always done the job. As Toleman, Senna took the team to some remarkable highs. As Benetton they won championships. As Renault they won championships. Now whatever they are called, there seems little doubt they will be successful.

Perhaps the team should be called Genii. Perhaps it should be called, as was suggested to me today, Scuderia Enstone. I like that idea, to be honest with you. Because it is the boys and girls at Enstone that have stuck with it all through thick and thin. They are the constant and this deal has secured much needed funding and a growing and vital commitment for the team’s future. It is the staff at Enstone who make the team and they will be the ones to take the team back to the top, regardless of the name above the door.

Lotus, Lotus, the Beatles and a solution!

I had a lovely relaxing weekend not really thinking much about Formula 1, but instead weeping over the crucifixion of many classic Beatles songs on X Factor on Saturday night. The greatest, most influential band on earth were paid a “tribute” by the supposed up and coming musical talent of the UK which seemed, to me, more like a slap in the face to the genius of Lennon and McCartney.

Of course, the very fact we had a “Beatles week” on X Factor at all was thanks to a marketing campaign around the news that after decades of arguments, it would appear that Apple (the makers of computers, phones and mp3 players) and Apple (a record company established by The Beatles in the 1960s) have finally buried the hatchet as for the first time in history one can now download Beatles songs from itunes. Hoorah!

And it got me thinking, and thus I tweeted: If Apple and Apple have kissed and made up, there’s hope yet for Lotus and Lotus. All you need is love!

And so my mind flipped back to Formula 1… and Lotus.

Autosport.com yesterday carried a fantastic interview with Mike Gascoyne, in which he described himself to be “perplexed” by the entire Team Lotus Vs Group Lotus mess. I, for one, couldn’t agree more.

Gascoyne makes many salient points in the interview, which I heavily suggest you read, but perhaps the one with which I agree the most is the following: “They seem to have announced that they’re going to join every racing series around the world, and the only question is who’s going to pay for it?”

“Because they seem to want to do every racing series that there is, and for a loss-making car company, that seems to be slightly perplexing. But if that’s what they want to do, good luck to them.”

Now I’m not overly fussed over who is going to pay for Group Lotus’ foray into motorsport, but I agree with Gazza in that Group Lotus’ motorsport strategy seems to lack any semblance of structure or sense.

It is as if they’ve just looked at global motorsport and said, “Ooh that looks fun let’s do that. And that looks good too. And that. Yeah, and that too.”

A Lotus? No, that'll be an ART...

And so it is that we now have a bonkers situation in which Group Lotus is due to sponsor Renault in Formula 1 next season, ART in GP2 and GP3 and KV Racing in Indycar. But why? I mean seriously, think about it… what’s the point in all this?

Did anybody give Lotus any credit this year when Takuma Sato ran their colours in Indycar? Did the results show Takuma Sato in a Lotus? No, they showed Sato in a KV Racing car. Next season, when I commentate on GP2 and GP3 will I call the ART team Lotus? No I bloody won’t. Because I don’t call Addax, Barwa. I never called Racing Engineering Fat Burner. So why should I rename ART, with six glorious years of GP2 history and a double championship in GP3 anything other than ART? Why should I suddenly start naming them by their sponsor?

And in Formula 1… when have you ever heard McLaren referred to as Vodafone? Ferrari as Marlboro? Williams as AT&T? So why will anybody call Renault Lotus next year? Simple answer is, they won’t. Quite apart from the fact that the public good will in the paddock surrounding Lotus rests very firmly with Tony Fernandes, I have never known anybody name a team by their sponsor rather than the team name.

I first got an inkling that the Group Lotus strategy was messed up when they announced they’d be sponsoring ART in GP2 and then all the Renault F1 chat began. Because, if Dany Bahar had thought about it, if they went in and invested in Renault F1, they’d get the exposure of a GP2 team for peanuts because DAMS carries the Renault livery in GP2. So they’ve gone and wasted all that investment in ART when they could have had it for a fraction in DAMS. I mean, it is a small thing, but it just shows there’s been very little forethought in what Group Lotus is doing.

Group Lotus has been riding off the back of Team Lotus ever since the Malaysian’s and Proton bought the company and suddenly realised it didn’t include the motor racing arm of the Lotus brand. There’s an excellent website on the history of the subject here.

What I do not understand is why Group Lotus has come in all guns blazing, when it could quite simply and for a fraction of the cost and the hassle, formed an official alliance with Tony Fernandes, Mike Gascoyne and Team Lotus whereby the car building arm of Lotus could have benefitted from what the racing team was doing. What we have right now suits neither.

So are the Malaysians trying to force Fernandes into buying Proton and Group Lotus? Frankly Fernandes isn’t that stupid. He won’t get forced into something he doesn’t want to do. And if that is what they’re trying to do then I can just see Fernandes digging in his heels even harder. He’s a very clever man and a very passionate man, and I think he is going to fight this thing until the bitter end. And I hope he does. Because he’s got huge support. Factor in also that Fernandes has paid an as yet undisclosed sum to David Hunt for the right to use the Team Lotus name next season… money which could have been spent on R&D… money which for a small team is critical.

The history of Team Lotus is the story of innovation and excellence. It is a story of mavericks, of legends and heroes. It is not the story of short cuts or ponying off other people’s work. Simply calling a team Lotus does not make it so.

Lotus Racing showed in 2010 that it was serious about Formula 1, serious about motorsport and serious about the heritage and history of the name that it was proud to carry. It wanted to be appraised on its own merits and make its own way.

That it now stands to lose its name because of some stupid marketing ploy which doesn’t make any sense in the wider world and just makes Group Lotus look petty and bitter, is a huge shame. There are a lot of people in this sport who are more than a little disgusted with the manner in which Group Lotus has approached this entire subject.

But if Bahar and Group Lotus want to go down this path, I have an idea… all Fernandes and his team need to do is to bring in a title sponsor which has a name that is, by some huge coincidence, the same as the name they look set to lose.

Lotus Bakeries in the UK and Lotus sanitary products come instantly to mind. Both logos would look great in gold against a black background as per the JPS stylings the team has said they’ll be forced to adopt next year with Group taking the green and yellow to Enstone. Group Lotus could not claim a naming conflict as neither company is motorsport affiliated. The companies wouldn’t even have to bring any money – simply supply the team with biscuits for their coffees or toilet paper for their motorhome. Lotus gets to call itself Lotus and there’s nothing Group Lotus can do about it.

A silly idea? No more silly and petty than what Group Lotus is doing, and I know which outfit would get the most support for its actions.

Whatever happens next year, I know which team I’ll be calling Lotus.

The Lotus situation in a nutshell

The latest word in Brazil is as follows.

Lotus ran this year as Lotus under a license from Lotus, but in Singapore Lotus announced that next year it would be changing its name from Lotus to Lotus. This news was immediately met with a statement from Lotus which said that it had the rights to use the Lotus name and that Lotus did not, so Lotus could not change its name from Lotus to Lotus.

Next season Lotus will not allow Lotus to call itself Lotus because Lotus wants to do a deal to take over Renault and call it Lotus so Lotus will have to call itself something else other than Lotus.

Lotus will also take a stake at ART in GP2 to create ART Lotus so the team set up by the guys running Lotus who won’t be able to call their teams Lotus next year will have to call their GP2 team Air Asia.

Takuma Sato ran a Lotus in Indycar this year which was actually a Honda powered Dallara but that was under a license from Lotus and had nothing to do with Lotus.

And that’s before we even get into the fact that Lotus has just signed to use Renault engines next season so if Renault is called Lotus but Lotus can’t be called Lotus but will be using Renault engines and Renault will be called Lotus and I’ve gone cross-eyed.

Basically.

Getting Home

The chaos in the world’s skies over the last week meant that many of us wondered how on earth we were going to get home from Shanghai. Being stuck in China wasn’t high on anyone’s lists of places to be stranded, but there was little one could actually do about the situation.

Some chose to book incredible journeys around the globe, taking in places as diverse as New York, Casablanca, Cairo, Porto, Vietnam, Moscow, Dubai and Istanbul. Others chose to sit tight and wait.

I, despite having a four week old daughter that I desperately wanted to see, sat in the latter half of the group. Having spoken at length with fellow journos Hans Seeberg, Tom Clarkson and Edd Straw, we decided that inaction was better than overeaction… and then we struck gold.

We’d heard that Lotus boss Tony Fernandes, who also owns one of the biggest commercial airlines in Asia, was putting on a flight to get his boys home as soon as UK airspace opened. And the four uf us had, completely independently and without knowledge that the others had also done so, approached him about the possibility of getting on board. I asked in the middle of an interview live on SPEED on the F1 grid, and Tony was most gracious in saying a very smily “yes.”

All we had to do was to get ourselves to Kuala Lumpur, and Lotus would take care of the rest.

And so it was that at 5pm on Tuesday afternoon, we left out hotel in Shanghai and took a 200+ km taxi ride to Shanghai Hangzhou airport. After a spot of dinner and a massive shunt with some horrible beers, we realised that another journalist, Adam Cooper, had not arrived. Turned out he’d gone to the wrong airport, poor bloke. Rather than risk wasting the £300 round trip in a taxi if he’d missed the flight, Adam dropped off the plane and it was just the four of us… here’s what happened over the next 36ish hours.

On the flight out of Shanghai. 23:20 Tuesday night

TC, equally delighted to be leaving China

Hans - officially loving Air Asia.

Snake's (not) on a plane. Shunt!

A few hours later, and Hans was most chuffed that we had made it to KL. Next stop, the hotel.

From KL’s smaller terminal we took a cab into the city to the Equatorial hotel, in which Lotus had sorted us some rooms. We checked in, grabbed some breakfast and then set about getting a few hours sleep. Three to be precise, because at 10am came the call we’d not even dared to dream would arrive so fast.

“Get your arses to the airport,” came the shout from Lotus’ PR man Tom Webb. “We fly at 2.”

Cue hasty re-packing of bags and speedy check out from the hotel which had cost us a rather amusing 50 pence per minute of rest. Genius! Well most of hastily re-packed. Tom couldn’t do much, having sent his clothes to the laundry. He’s hoping they’ll send him his stuff in the post, as this was not a flight any of us wanted to miss.

We arrived at the airport and caught up with Mia Sharizman Ismail, Lotus’ Operations guru who called us to the front of the queue to check in immediately for the flight. We caught up with some of the Lotus boys who’d arrived a few days before and whom their team boss Tony Fernandes had been looking after, giving them tours of the Air Asia facilities, letting them try out the aircraft simulators (£15 million a pop), and who had organised a day of go karting and a massive party for the evening we ended up having to leave KL. They adore him, to a man. And it is easy to see why.

A quick McDonalds later, and we had passed security and were tucking into a celebratory beer with Tom Webb. The gate was called and we made our way over to Gate 16… and look who was waiting for us…

You don't get this on BA! Tony Fernandes was on hand in the KL departure lounge to make sure we all got on the plane OK. LEGEND.

The gate at KL - full of Lotus boys, Cosworth, paying customers and four random and highly fortuitous journos!

Never had one letter and five numbers looked quite so wonderful.

Our Air Asia flight home on the KL runway. Tony waited by the steps to wish us all well.

10 hours into the 14 hour flight home, Edd and Hans were now slightly tired and bored of flying.

Just after 9pm on Wednesday night GMT, and after 40 hours of constant travelling, we land in London.

And look who was waiting! Mrs Will and baby Sophie.

So almost 40 hours after waking up on Tuesday in Shanghai, all four of us had made it home, thanks to the incredible kindness of our new favourite F1 team Lotus, and our new hero, Mr Tony Fernandes.

A huge thank you has to go to Silvi Schaumloeffel and Mike Gascoyne and a lifetime’s gratitude to Tom Webb, Mia Sharizman Ismail and, of course, the legend that is Tony Fernandes. Thank you all.

And for those still stuck in Shanghai, a heartfelt “keep your chin up.” Here’s hoping everyone gets back soon.

Why F1′s exciting new dawn may have to wait

Part of the new track in Bahrain © http://www.sutton-images.com

I’m getting a little bit worried about tomorrow’s F1 race, because from what I have seen so far of the weekend, the incredible battle that everyone is expecting may be under threat of not showing up.

This fear comes not from the competitive differences between the teams you understand, but from something far easier to resolve… and something which wasn’t even a problem two weeks ago.

The new sequence of corners at the Bahrain International circuit between Turn 4 and the old Turn 5, have added almost a kilometre to the circuit length and half a minute to overall laptimes. They’re a challenging combination of tight and technical corners, designed to add some extra spice to the track… only, they’re not quite coming up trumps.

The problem, you see, is that this new part of the track has been ill conceived and ill designed. Quite apart from the fact that there simply isn’t enough track length between corners to allow anyone to have a decent stab at a passing move, the track width is so slim that you can barely fit two cars side by side. To the naked eye, it appears almost half the width of the rest of the circuit.

So if this new part of the track wasn’t designed around the purpose of introducing more overtaking opportunities, then why put it in at all? Sure these seven extra turns now make Bahrain the second longest circuit on the calendar, but nobody’s going to care when all they’ve done is create crap racing.

And if you think I’m being overly pessimistic, may I point your attention to today’s GP2 Asia race.

Two weeks ago, GP2 Asia raced on the old circuit, the original circuit. With overtaking being pulled off at Turns 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 11, 12, 15/16 and, believe it or not, 13 and 14 throughout the weekend, the main feature race two weeks ago had me on my knees in the commentary box and in need of some strepsils. It was, without question, one of the greatest races I have witnessed in my lifetime.

Compare that to today. The extra corners served not to spice up the show, but to create one long procession. You’d never have believed we were at the same track.. because in many ways, we weren’t.

The new section didn’t allow good overtaking. Indeed only two moves were pulled off there all race and both of those were balls to the wall passes that owed more to luck than judgement. It’s also incredibly bumpy… so much so that pole sitter and today’s winner Luca Filippi has taken to wearing a gumshield, a sporting safety device more usually seen on the rugby field than in a racing car. Third placed Charles Pic has reported that he is suffering from huge blisters on both hands following today’s race… soemthing he certainly didn’t have after winning here two weeks ago!

Sure, you can argue it’s only GP2 Asia, and not representative of F1. But GP2 Asia cars were designed around the concept of ground effect and to allow overtaking. F1 2010 has not been. So if the new track turned one of the most exciting races I’ve seen into one of the most dull… what hope of a good F1 race? The 24 drivers who took part in today’s race featured only a few changes from those who competed a few weeks ago, so did they all just forget how to race? I don’t think so.

Factor in also that the new teams in F1 are not on the pace of those at the front of the grid, and there is also a potential problem… namely that between Turn 5 and Turn 12, quicker cars will not be able to pass slower cars. Even if they’re lapping them. All this will do is create anger from the leading drivers to the backmarkers at a time when the 107% rule is already being debated in unduly high decibels.

But if we are to be fair we must point out right now and before the race even begins that it will not be the Virgin, Lotus and HRT drivers’ fault if they cannot get out of the way of the quicker cars in this new section, but that of the circuit designers. Anywhere else, and there might have been space to pass… but not on a track that’s as thin and as comparative a shade of its former self as Lindsey Lohan.

They usually say that a boring Sunday GP2 race doesn’t leave much hope for the main event.

As such, I’m hoping for an epic support event tomorrow morning. If it doesn’t arrive, we may have to wait a few weeks for F1’s exciting new dawn to truly arrive.

Whitmarsh – FOTA and McLaren willing to help new teams.

Martin Whitmarsh © http://www.sutton-images.com

McLaren’s Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh has pledged that Formula 1 will do all it can to help the sport’s new teams succeed, as the financial and sporting future of at least half of F1′s new entrants looks to be in jeopardy with a matter of days to go until pre-season testing gets underway.

His comments come just a day after Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo reignited the discussion surrounding the provision of customer cars to new teams in order to aid their transition to F1.

“I think we, as McLaren and myself as chairman of FOTA, recognise that we will do all we can to demonstrate that new entrants are possible in F1,” he said at today’s launch of the McLaren MP4-25.

“It is clearly tough for the new teams to come into the sport. We know how difficult it is, with all the experience and resources we have, to be ready for the start of the season. So it must be very difficult for any new team. I don’t think we should apologise for that. F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and if it was easy for anyone to get out their chequebook and go motor racing at the highest level next year, then we would really not have been working as hard as we should have been as established teams.

“We don’t want any team to fail, we should be doing all that we can within the F1 community. I think FOTA has been a coming-together of all of the teams for the first time in the history of F1. The spirit that exists in F1 is unique now, certainly in my 20 years of experience in the sport. So I think we will do what we can, but ultimately if there are teams that just don’t have the capability or resource or underestimated the task of being at the highest level of motorsport in the world, then some you can help and some you can’t.”

Whitmarsh maintained that McLaren remained open to the possibility of supplying customer cars, but expressed his surprise that none of the new teams, save for the as yet still mysterious Stefan GP, decided to take up the option of buying Toyota’s completed 2010 racer.

“I think philosophically McLaren believes that it is important F1 entrants develop their own cars, however, we are pragmatists and we have demonstrated in the past a willingness to provide customer cars. We remain willing, but I don’t know we are ready to do it quite before Bahrain if a team needs it.

“Ironically quite a lot of these teams had an opportunity to acquire a Toyota chassis. Toyota built two cars that were available from Christmas, and I am rather surprised that some of them did not do that – they rather looked a gift horse in the mouth. That was, perhaps, the wrong decision but nevertheless they had their own reasons for that decision. We have to see in the coming weeks or months whether we can help those new teams to be there to add to the flavour and diversity of F1.”

Heikki or Heidfeld to partner Trulli at Lotus

The 1Malaysia Lotus F1 Team is due to announce its 2010 driver pairing in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow, and today’s internet pages have been filled with the sad news that Takuma Sato is out of contention for the second seat at the squad.

I say sad because Taku is a talented driver, an incredibly nice chap, and a racer with the most recent experience of what it takes to lead a start-up team from scratch. He would have been the perfect choice from a sporting as well as commercial point of view, but Lotus has made its decision and, for whatever reason, Taku doesn’t fit the bill.

All of which seems to have cemented opinion that it will be Heikki Kovalainen who is unveiled tomorrow as a Lotus driver alongside Jarno Trulli, who is known to have been Lotus’ preferred number 1 driver from the outset.

However, my sources are telling me that all is not as clear cut as at first thought, for Heikki is not alone in the running for the second seat. With the Michael Schumacher / Mercedes saga showing no sign of abating, I have it on good authority that Lotus are still trying to decide between Heikki and one other driver… Nick Heidfeld.

Nick was always thought to be a shoe in at Mercedes, but in recent weeks has slipped further out of contention for the seat as both Michael Schumacher and Robert Kubica’s names have been heavily linked to what is increasingly becoming the critical seat of the winter period. With Taku no longer in the running for the Lotus job, and Jarno Trulli all but confirmed from the off, it now seems the second seat is a straight fight between Heikki and Heidfeld.

I understand that a decision is yet to be taken over exactly who will fill Lotus’ second seat. Kovalainen, however, is the favourite.

It is also interesting to note that neither of Lotus’ drivers will be asked to bring funding with them.

Four Drivers, Two Seats at Lotus

1 Malaysia F1 Team Principal, OK let’s just call it Lotus from here on in, Tony Fernandes has revelead that four drivers remain in the running for two seats at the team in 2010. The news comes in spite of Fernandes’ own admission that Lotus had signed its first driver a few weeks ago.

“Arrived in london. New york to london on virgin. One day. AirAsia fron kl to london to new york. Have to decide on 4 drivers for 2 seats,” he reported on his twitter feed late last night.

The news that two seats remain thus raises an interesting question…

1.) Did Fernandes’ initial quote refer to the signing of a test driver?

2.) Did Fernandes’ initial quote refer to a race driver, and the two remaining seats include the position of test driver?

3.) Has the initial deal Fernandes reported collapsed, thus opening two vacant race seats?

My hunch is that Fernandes’ initial report that the team had signed a driver was a signal that the squad had bitten the bullet and done a deal with Malaysian Fairuz Fauzy to act in the predominantly artificial role of test / reserve driver for 2010. Given that current testing regulations will give Fauzy all of about six miles in an F1 car, it would be an easy appointment for the team to make and would please the team’s major backer, the Malaysian government.

The two remaining seats, therefore, would be the race seats.

Jarno Trulli is known to have been high on the team’s list since Day 1. The Italian recently tested NASCAR and enjoyed himself, but I don’t believe he is ready or willing to walk away from F1 if a chance to race still exists. While he is still quick and would be a worthy addition to any young squad, I’m not sure how much personal backing he has. The team however would probably be willing to bring Trulli in if for nothing other than his vast experience.

Takuma Sato is also in discussions with Lotus, and to my mind is by far the team’s most sensible option. He proved at Super Aguri what he could do with a young team, and the maturity which he showed in leading the team has marked him out as a man that Lotus cannot afford to simply ignore. With most new teams looking for around US $8 million, Sato’s personal backing may fall short of the required amount, but what he brings in marketing value in Asia and in his experience with a start-up team is, to my mind, far more valuable.

So who are the other two drivers? An educated guess says that Kamui Kobayashi is still in there. We know he’s been talking to Lotus and we know he has backing from a few old Toyota backers. He impressed in his two outings for Toyota and a renewed partnership of him and Trulli would be a nice mix of youth and experience. But the question remains as to whether as a new team you can take a chance on youth or whether you should put your eggs in a more experienced basket?

Finally, then, you’d probably have to say that Kovalainen is in the mix of the final four. A line-up of him and Trulli would be one of total F1 underachievement but of two men who have much to prove. It could prove potent, but it could equally prove to be high risk as if both fail to shine, Lotus’ much vaunted return could be a tremendous flop.

What is interesting is that Lotus seems close to making its decision. Another large piece of the driver market puzzle could be about to fall into place.