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.
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.