Lotus fights on all fronts

Prancing Horses gallop apace through this issue! We carry a rare and exclusive interview with the man who hopes to become the next Ferrari Formula 1 World Champion, and there’s another with the last chap who managed it for the Scuderia. Then there’s the cover story in which Maranello’s stunning 458 Italia becomes a tool de luxe to re-trace the routes of the glorious Targa Florio road race. Now, I’m no road tester, so I’ve left it to Andrew Frankel – a man far more qualified than I – to give our definitive verdict on the best-looking Ferrari since the 308GTB. Is beauty skin-deep on this occasion? Find out on page 108.

Ferrari also plays a significant role for the man who was Simon Taylor’s lunch guest this month, Stefan Johansson. But never fear, this isn’t Ferrari overload: as usual, there’s plenty of diversity within these pages. As for who’s in the news, the manufacturer we’ve previously labelled ‘Britain’s own Ferrari’ trumps the Scuderia at every turn.

Yes, Lotus peppers our ‘current affairs’ pages this month. Much of the news is good, exciting even. But if you sense a tone of deep concern, you won’t be imagining it.

Take road cars first. The strength of Lotus ambition was on display at the Paris Motor Show, where six new models were announced. Great – but as Andrew writes on p106, should Lotus really be taking on Ferrari and the other giants? Let’s hope it doesn’t overreach.

The same can be said for the group’s racing plans. Ex-Ferrari personnel led by CEO Dany Bahar are taking Lotus back to Le Mans on two fronts (see p24), while a link-up with crack single-seater squad ART in two junior series hints strongly at future Grand Prix ambitions.

And this is where we voice our biggest concern, for of course there is already a Lotus team in F1. As you can read on p12, the breakdown in relations between Group Lotus and Tony Fernandes’s Lotus Racing is alarming. Motor Sport has always expressed reservations about this supposed return of Lotus to GP racing, on the grounds of a new team ‘piggybacking history’. Now, if Fernandes’s squad, which has performed respectably on track in its first season, has no direct relationship with the company building road cars it ceases to be Lotus. It may well call itself ‘Team Lotus’ in 2011, having apparently bought the rights to do so. But if it does, it will mean little. For some, Team Lotus died with Colin Chapman in 1982 – for the rest it definitely ceased to exist when the team finally went under in 1994.

In our March issue, we asked former Team Lotus employees how they felt about the return. Among them was Peter Warr, Chapman’s trusted lieutenant and the man who kept Team going after Colin’s death. Warr was supportive, but couldn’t help being “a little anxious. It’s not Team Lotus as we know it.” Sadly, we couldn’t go back to ask Peter for his thoughts: we mark his passing in this issue, along with former Team driver Trevor Taylor. But as Peter told us in March: “I’d have been perfectly happy for Lotus’s 79 Grand Prix wins and seven constructors’ World Championships to remain as crystallised pieces of F1 history.”

Don’t worry, Peter, they will be – at least for long-time fans with memories. Like the Jaguar team that eventually begat Red Bull Racing, Lotus F1 Racing struggles to maintain a true link to its heritage because it is manufactured. It’s not real. The Fernandes team looks set to prosper in 2011. But does it need to string out this tie to Lotus, when the relationship with the Group appears broken beyond repair? If respect for the Lotus name means anything, an honourable withdrawal would be best. Then, if Bahar’s plans come to fruition and another new Team Lotus makes the grid, Fernandes’s Team Malaysia (or whatever he might choose to call it) can concentrate on the best revenge – by soundly beating them on track!