With its novel side exhaust consigned to history the former Renault team, that we now know as Lotus, has made a huge step forward this year, and has a package that could give Kimi Räikkönen a genuine shot at winning a GP.
Meanwhile there have been major changes behind the scenes in terms of the race team’s relationship with the troubled Group Lotus. In the course of the legal battle with Tony Fernandes over the use of the name it was made clear that the Enstone team would be the ‘genuine’ Lotus with a direct association with the road car company, which had signed up to be a long-term sponsor.
Its CEO Dany Bahar became a director of the team, and ties between the two appeared to be set to grow even closer. It later emerged that Group Lotus could not meet that financial commitment and the sponsorship deal was terminated. Bahar is no longer a director, and in effect Lotus F1 is a third party that has a licence to use the name in Grand Prix racing until 2017 in much the same way that Fernandes had in his team’s first season – no money is changing hands but the team can use a famous brand to attract sponsors.
However, on paper there remains a connection between the entities in the unusual form of a three-year £30m loan from Proton/Group Lotus to the team.
Details of the arrangement emerged in a bizarre press release sent out by Lotus Cars just before the Malaysian GP.
It attacked Fernandes and others who had hinted at trouble in the camp, insisted that the company still had an ongoing involvement in F1 – and suggested that it might gain ownership of the team should the loan not be repaid, since Enstone’s assets were collateral.
Inevitably talk of loans and lost sponsorship has not cast a good light on Lotus F1. In fact the reality is less dramatic than it might seem. When Genii took over the team it had a lot of debt, and in effect the £30m represents existing loans from Lithuanian bank AB Snoras to Renault Group that were transferred to Group Lotus in a deal that suited Genii. In addition the assets pledged do not include the actual entry, sponsor contracts and other key elements of the Lotus F1 entity.
“It’s not like the company has more debt, and it’s not like all the assets pledged,” Genii owner Gerard Lopez told Motor Sport. “There’s nothing less and nothing more than there was before. That’s why the whole commotion doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. You can re-finance it, you can repay it. It becomes a big story, even though it’s not.”
Meanwhile Lopez plays down suggestions that Genii might one day reunite the two users of the Lotus name by taking over the car company.
“If Proton and their new owners decide to continue pushing Lotus as a car brand and work with us, there’s a very good status quo. If they decide to sell, we are the Lotus brand in F1, and if there is a deal to be made that makes sense, we would probably look at it. But we’ve never gone out and said we want to buy Group Lotus.”