Team Lotus confirmed on Wednesday the purchase of sports car manufacturer Caterham, in a move that could lead to the re-branding of the F1 team. Team boss Tony Fernandes, however, said there was no decision yet, but offered his thoughts about his plans for Caterham and Lotus.
Q. Can you explain what the deal with Caterham is about? Does it go beyond just trying to make a bit more profit?
Tony Fernandes: Well, it is two things. If you start a Formula 1 team, I don't believe you can make is sustainable without having other businesses attached to it. And one of the reasons we started the team was that we felt F1 was a fantastic opportunity to build new brands, and to build a business around it.
Obviously, we thought Group Lotus was an unpolished diamond in many ways, and with an F1 team we could have done many things together. That didn't transpire, but it is funny how in life if you go down one road, it gets blocked heavily, and so you switch to another road. But then, in fact, the other road looks a lot nicer.
I believe that if you are doing things well, you give it the right attention and you have the right people, luck will find a way for you. Certainly, fortune favored the brave here, and if I were to redo things, I would have much rather gone down this route, to be honest. It is a simpler, easier one. It is a profitable business, it doesn't require lots and lots of capital and the F1 teams add a lot to it to grow the business. Without sounding like a cliché, it is a marriage made in heaven in many shapes and forms.
Q. So, in an ideal world from day one, you would rather have done this Caterham deal and had a Caterham F1 team with the road car business?
TF: No. I would never have gone back and done anything different to Team Lotus and Lotus Racing. That gave us the big oomph, and I still believe that having Team Lotus involved with Caterham is a natural fit – and I don't think it has to be one or the other. I think we can make both work, and they both bring their own heritage and their own passion.
The beauty of Caterham is that there is a link between the two in terms of the Lotus Seven – there are so many things we can do with Seven, with Team Lotus and with Caterham. It is a marketing dream for me, and I don't believe it is one or the other.
Many people are saying, are you doing this because you are going to lose Team Lotus? That is not the case. Putting a Team Lotus logo on the Caterham will be great, in the same way that Williams did it with the Renault Clio. And looking at it from a marketing perspective, there is so much you can do with these cars and you can go in different directions. I don't believe it is one or the other. I hope the verdict comes out the right way, and we can use both.
Q. What are your plans for getting the Caterham name involved in F1? Will there be branding on the car, a total team rename?
TF: I don't know yet, to be honest. I am waiting to see what happens with the case, and all these sort of things. But an ideal scenario would be a marriage of the two.
Q. How ambitious are you for Caterham? It sells 500 cars now, so where do you see it five years from now?
TF: Look, I am not going to be like other people who talk about five models and I will make this sort of car and be better than all the other car companies. We always wanted to be a car manufacturer, but we never told any of you that. We just went out and did it – and then announced it. So I would rather do it, and then talk about it.
Our track record is that we started an airline with 200,000 passengers, and nine years on we are carrying 31 million. So, I don't know. I don't know enough about this business, but I believe we have something that has a lot of value and we will try and maximize that value.
Q. Are you going to move the factory from Dartford up to Norfolk, where Team Lotus is located?
TF: I don't know. What I do know is that one day I think they should all be together. Wouldn't it be great if one day you came to visit an F1 team and then saw your car come off the production line? And to have a test track somewhere around there...that is the dream.
Q. So the long-term intention is to move the factory to Norfolk?
TF: I don't know if it is Norfolk. I don't know if it is Silverstone. I don't know if it is Dartford itself. Wherever we can do it. All I know is that I would like to marry the two together. Where and when I don't know. Eighteen months has been a long time for me in F1, so I can't predict what is going to happen in the next 18 months.
Q. The outcome of the court case against Group Lotus is unknown, and won't be known for a few more weeks. In an ideal scenario where you are able to keep the Team Lotus name, will Caterham be a part of it? Or are you chasing the idea of a Caterham F1 team?
TF: No, no, no. The ideal world is both. People have said that Lotus has its own F1 team, but so what? There is Manchester United and Manchester City [soccer teams]. People will come to understand what each brand stands for, and say, "We want this," or, "We want that." It is no different to me, and I really hope we can keep both.
Q. Is the Caterham name and brand strong enough to hold up an F1 team?
TF: Look, where was Red Bull five years ago? It doesn't matter. It is emotional for us. We worked hard to bring Lotus back home. We spent good money. We think it is morally not right what has happened. Of course, Caterham can stand on its own two feet, but I think it would be much better if they were together. That is our heritage. We brought back Team Lotus.
Q. Was the emotional aspect of Caterham, its iconic status in the UK, an important element in your decision to do this deal?
TF: I didn't have any particular aspirations. It just happened. And my god, when you put it down on a piece of paper you think, "Wow, why didn't we think of this before?" It does it make a lot of sense.
Q. And brand-wise, it makes a lot of sense, because of the green and yellow colors...
TF: Yes. There is heritage there. There are no change of colors. But they do like orange, although I am changing them fast on that! Green and yellow makes sense. The Lotus Seven is a racing car. It is more for less. It is lightweight. It is everything we talked about. So it is really perfect.
Q. What about a Caterham involvement with the GP2 Team?
TF: I can confirm pretty clearly that there will be a Caterham GP2 Team.
Q. Alongside the AirAsia brand?
TF: Yes. I will probably, but I have to check with the regulations, rename the team "Caterham" and "AirAsia" will become a sponsor. So, Air Asia Caterham. You've asked me that, and that is my immediate reaction. But when we do it and how we do it, I don't know yet.
Q. But from your viewpoint, this Caterham deal isn't about setting up a fallback option if you lose the Lotus case?
TF: No. We bought this way before the court case. If that was the case, we would have said let's sign up after the court case!
Q. When did you open negotiations?
TF: December. And we closed the deal in April. I always felt we should be a car manufacturer.
Q. And will there be plenty of Caterham F1 special editions?
TF: Yes. There is one already! I think that is a no-brainer, and Caterham brings to us racing. We have made F1 accessible, in terms of Team Lotus notes, Lotus TV – but everyone who goes to an F1 race would like to race after that. They are not going to get into an F1 car, but Caterham has the ability to get involved at karting level and go all the way up to GP2. We think we can make it very accessible. And we can bring more racing to more people using the Caterham brand.