The controversy over the use of the Lotus brand in Formula 1 shows no sign of abating, with both Tony Fernandes' team Lotus and Renault's new title sponsor and shareholder Group Lotus standing firm.
Group Lotus CEO Dany Bahar met with the media in London today to explain his position.
Q. Can you try to explain to us how we have ended up with a messy situation where there is a Lotus-sponsored Renault and a Renault-powered Lotus?
Dany Bahar: First of all, I don't believe that we are the cause of this messy situation. But secondly, and this is my personal opinion, I don't think we will end up in a situation where we have two Lotus teams out there. But if this is the case then we will be competing against them like any other team as well.
Q. So are you a man who is confident that the team currently known as Lotus will not be known as Lotus in the future – and that Group Lotus should claim the name?
DB: Not at all. I am not a lawyer and I would never judge on something that is outside of my control. So therefore I can just see what our shareholders are trying to achieve with the other party, and since they are two Malaysian parties I have confidence they will be reaching an amicable solution. And this is all I am trying to explain to you.
Q. Given that Lotus the car company is owned by Proton, the Malaysian state controlled car company, and given that the current Lotus team is Malaysian controlled as well – why are you not partnering them?
DB: There were many routes that caused this situation. The two Malaysian entities entered into talks long before our management group arrived at Lotus Group – so there was no real business plan, no real motorsport plan for Group Lotus at that time and I believe that Proton thought at the time it was the right thing to do. But when we came along and presented a business plan that included not only a transformation of the road car business but also heavy investment into motor racing to support the sales of our cars, I believe they suddenly understood that this is something you cannot separate from each other because one needs the other party, and this is where we are at today.
Q. Have you had discussions with Tony Fernandes? Did you want to be a part of that at any stage?
DB: Since this world is obviously very small, we had various discussions and I think our shareholders had even more discussions than we had, but I believe the situation at the moment is one that we were not able to reach an amicable solution. But we are trying hard to get there.
Q. Are you trying to keep alive the Lotus name, its history and its heritage – or is this just a car company investing in Formula 1?
DB: No. We are not claiming to be Team Lotus or to become Team Lotus. Team Lotus is something that should rest in peace. They had a glorious past, and incredible success. All we are trying to do is to make use of the heritage, as probably any other car company would do as well to support their sales and to market their products.
But we do not want to become a second Team Lotus. We will never be. It is just, as you say, a car company trying to come up with a new Formula 1 program.
Q. You are investing and becoming a partner in the Renault team. Do you stay as Renault for the future, or is this a team that could be fully Lotus in four or five years' time?
DB: Well, we follow the same Lotus strategy we apply in every single motor racing activity we have decided to enter. We first of all, just act as a sponsor and maybe a shareholder, but we leave the things as they are today. They are good as they are today – Renault is an exceptional name, we keep the name as it is, and the chassis will be called a Renault.
So we stay as it is for the next two years. And what the future brings, with maybe a new Concorde Agreement, we will see. But for the moment we act as a sponsor, we have the influence as a shareholder and this is good for us as it is.
Q. Why do you feel so confident that there will be an amicable solution to the Team Lotus dispute?
DB: Oh, I am not confident at all! I am just a positive-thinking person. I am hoping that these two parties, since they are Malaysian, they will come to an agreement and hopefully with some pressure here or there. I just hope there will be a solution. If there is no solution then the road is clear. There are courts in place and they will deal with the matter. It is not in our control now.
Q. But isn't that a problem for you because the fans are very confused about which team is the real Lotus and which one they should be supporting...
DB: For the fans it is not an easy situation. They are confused because there is a Lotus team, but maybe the fans have also not seen the whole full picture of who is the car company. Maybe they are confused a bit because is this not the car company who gave them the license, and now we are trying to stop them from racing under the name?
So it is a bit confusing, I understand. But that is why I am saying I personally do not believe there will be a confusion next year in Formula 1, because I think we will be able to sort it out before.
Q. Does it concern you that as journalists we are unlikely to use the name Lotus to describe your team next year because you are simply a sponsor – just as we don't use Vodafone to describe McLaren, AT&T to describe Williams or Petronas to describe Mercedes?
DB: Yes, I understand that and we are fully aware of this, and we were aware of this before we did this move. However, when we fully decide to enter into an activity of this size, it is a long-term agreement, a long-term activity for us. It is not about the next year or the next two years, it is something to establish, to give the sustainability to the whole company for the next 10 years.
We are well aware that we cannot change the mechanisms that are in place today by changing the chassis name, because this would have a lot of negative consequences. We are fine being a sponsor at the moment, and we have to respect the fact that commentators will just use the name Renault. That is unfortunately as it is.