Team Lotus owner Tony Fernandes has expressed disappointment about critical remarks made about him in the legal battle over the Lotus naming rights, and says he cannot wait for the British courts to end the dispute once and for all.
Fernandes was on the receiving end of criticism earlier this week from Renault team owner Gerard Lopez, who said that the Malaysian businessman should come clean about the real reasons behind the fight over the Lotus name. Lopez suggested that the matter was purely about money, as a name change for Team Lotus would mean the squad losing its television rights funds.
In response, Fernandes expressed his annoyance that the dispute between him and Group Lotus, which is the Renault team's title sponsor, had blown up again in public.
"I am disappointed with it," he told AUTOSPORT. "I think it has become very personal. I have never made it personal – and what have I done wrong?
"I was offered a chance to restart Lotus. [Group Lotus owner] Proton agreed – they gave me a five-year deal. I did it in good faith, I spent my own money, I have spent $130 million building this team – and I then had the Lotus Racing contract unceremoniously violated for some T-shirt violations which we were challenging. I was smart enough to go and buy Team Lotus, though.
"I love Lotus and I didn't want all this stuff. I said to the boys in the pits last year, who were very emotional, that we may give up the name because we don't want to drag Lotus into the mud. A few of them came and said, 'Don't do it. I was born in Norfolk, I worked for Lotus, so don't do it.'
"I never wanted to give it up, I put my heart and soul into this, but for the sake of the brand I would do it. Well, Group Lotus offered me $10 million to give them everything – the name, everything – but we have spent $130 million. To accept their offer would have bankrupted the team as we would have lost the FOM money, and I wasn't going to do that.
"We have 250 jobs here, we put our own money in, and so we are going to carry on. And I feel good about it. I was reluctant to discuss that offer, but there was a lot of pressure on us."
The dispute between Team Lotus and Group Lotus will almost certainly be resolved early in the Formula 1 season, with Britain's High Court hearing to decide the matter scheduled to begin on March 21. Fernandes said that he was eager for the matter to get sorted.
"I am very happy that it has been brought forward," he said. "The quicker we do it the better, and we can both move on. I am very happy that Justice Smith [the judge in the case] said, 'Bring it forward.'"