• Lotus naming rights

It's not about the name, it's about the money

Martin Williamson January 24, 2011

The two parties squabbling over the right to be called Lotus head to the High Court in London today in a bid to resolve the issue before the start of the 2011 season in seven weeks. However, nobody is expecting a decision any time soon.

In one corner is Team Lotus, run by a Malaysian consortium headed by Tony Fernandes, owner of AirAsia. Fernandes brought the Lotus name back to the sport last season after 16 years with the blessing of Group Lotus and subsequently bought the rights to the name Team Lotus from David Hunt when relations with Proton soured. Hunt had bought the name from the debris of the Lotus empire when it collapsed in 1994 and sold the licence to Fernandes after several failed attempts to re-launch a team himself.

In the other is Group Lotus, the Proton-owned manufacturer based in Norfolk which has stumbled along for years since the death of founder Colin Chapman in 1982. Last season it backed Fernandes' team, but it now has plans for the brand and in the close season invested an estimated $150 million in buying into the Renault team. It wants the name back so it can call the new partnership Lotus-Renault GP.

In this instance, the name is crucial because of the association with the Chapman-led team which turned the sport on its head in the 1960s and 1970s. That association makes it a valuable commercial brand. For Fernandes last year, attracting global sponsors to a new team called Air Asia would have been a lot harder than it was to one called Lotus.

"The whole prospect of two teams with the same name is curious to say the least," Mark Daniels, intellectual property partner at Browne Jacobson, the law firm, told the Times. "It is an iconic brand and no sponsor or fan is going to feel comfortable with the idea that there are two teams with the same name. The best way to settle this is out of court, because anything that hurts the brand needs to be avoided, and as soon as possible before the start of the new season."

However, Fernandes is getting ready for a drawn-out battle and insists there is no way a final decision can be reached by Monday's summary judgement, which, if passed, would likely be appealed anyway.

"Many confused about case today," he wrote on Twitter. "It's not about Team Lotus name and who owns it, which is in November. We brought that case to prove once and for all.

"Today's case is Group Lotus' desperate attempt to use their one-way unlawful termination of license agreement of Lotus Racing, saying 1Malaysia can't use Lotus [name]. Part of post termination clauses. So nothing changes on Team Lotus."

The result is that fans will be left confused when the season starts. The Lotus-Renault GP team have stolen a march by revealing it will race in the famous JPS black and gold colours Chapman introduced in the early 1970s, while Fernandes' Team Lotus will stick with the equally iconic green and yellow colours Chapman's cars used in the 1960s.

The reality is that neither really has any linear link to the Lotus of old. It's two Malaysian businesses battling for a brand which can be exploited rather than fighting for a part of Formula One history. Chapman and Lotus were all about breaking down barriers and innovation; the two protagonists in this case are only concerned with money and marketing.

  • ESPNF1 will refer to the teams as Renault (Lotus-Renault F1) and Lotus (Team Lotus) so as to avoid confusing readers and ourselves.

    Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA

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    Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA Martin Williamson, who grew up in the era of James Hunt, Niki Lauda and sideburns, became managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group in 2007 after spells with Sky Sports, Sportal and Cricinfo