In football you will often hear about ‘derby matches’. These are tense, sometimes bitter confrontations between two teams hailing from the same area – often the same city – that divide the local population and ultimately results in a very heated contest.
Now, after years of waiting, Formula One finally has a similar competition. This will – we’ve decided – be titled the Lotus Derby, because next year all signs point to there being two Lotus team on the same grid.
Both Lotus bosses have already fired warning shots, with Lotus Renault GP (aka Black Lotus) owner Dany Bahar stating that you will be able to tell which Lotus team is his ‘as it will be the one higher up the field’, while Team Lotus (aka Green Lotus) boss Tony Fernandes has had a dig at Bahar by stating that all he is doing is sponsoring a team which is already well established. Ouch!
So how is the confrontation shaping up thus far? Badger guest writer Mark Martin has taken a look.
Round one: The fans
The opening contest between the two was an attempt to win fan approval. A survey conducted on Wednesday revealed that 41% of fans have pledged their allegiance to Fernandes’ Team Lotus, with only 20% supporting Bahar’s Lotus Renault GP.
However, the remaining 39% stated that they would support neither of the teams as they are nothing to do with the original Lotus, which was the darling of the fans in olden days with drivers such as Jim Clark, Emerson Fittipaldi and the British bulldog himself Nigel Mansell (before he decided on a new career as a comedy actor in Moneysupermarket commercials).
Round one: Green Lotus – it may not be a majority but they have the greater fan backing.
Round two: Politicians
Tony Fernandes famously bought Air Asia from the Malaysian government for a reputed $1 after the company plunged into debt while under government ownership. Fernandes subsequently turned it into a multi-million dollar company and one of the most popular airlines in the ASEAN region.
It appears that the Malaysian government never forgot this defeat, and they are determined that the Proton Car Company (which is also part-owned by the government), does not end in similar failure.
They therefore hired Bahar at the end of 2009 and charged him with the task of making the company a major global player. The ex-Ferrari man informed them that the Lotus Car Company would benefit from F1 involvement, leading to them fully supporting Bahar purchase of the Renault F1 team.
Round two: Black Lotus – If it comes down to a political fight it’s Bahar who’ll win. Tony’s left himself a little isolated.
Round three: The livery
Rightly believing the rumours that Bahar was about to purchase Renault, Tony Fernandes assumed that the team would adopt the classic black and gold Lotus livery based on the gold/black Renault-powered cars of the 1980s and the fact that the 2010 Renault was black and yellow. Therefore, perhaps in order to annoy them, Fernandes started a competition on his team’s website to design their new black and gold livery for the 2011 season, likely assuming that this would force Bahar to alter his plans.
However, Bahar was unfazed by this and revealed his team’s black and gold livery to the press before Fernandes’s competition had finished. The result was that Mike Gascoyne and Fernandes back-tracked and stated that they will be keeping the British Racing Green colours used during their 2010 campaign.
Round three: Black Lotus – Got the design out first, anything Tony and Mike did would have looked like copying. We’re glad they’re sticking with British Racing Green anyway.
Round 4: Legal challenge
Officially this has yet to be settled, but it is assumed by many in the F1 community that Fernandes has every right to use the ‘Team Lotus’ name. This is based on an argument going back fifty years, when the original team was formed by Colin Chapman. Fernandes claims that Chapman set up ‘Team Lotus’ as a separate team from the Lotus Car Company to protect each from the other. Bahar meanwhile claims that this is nonsense as they are both divisions of ‘Group Lotus’ (which Proton owns), despite the fact that Lotus Cars didn’t have to pay off Team Lotus’ many creditors when it collapsed in 1994. Nevertheless, Bahar is persisting with his legal challenge in an attempt to stop Fernandes from using the Lotus name.
Round four: Green Lotus – ‘Team’ always existed separately from ‘Group’ so that if one got in to financial trouble it wouldn’t drag the other down with it. Tony’s use of Team Lotus in 2011 is legit.
Round five: F1 2011
Heading into 2011, with many legal challenges ultimately hanging over both of their heads, the two teams are equal at two apiece. This outcome of the derby will therefore be decided by the 2011 F1 season, as the two teams take their battle to the track.
Under the guise of Renault F1, Lotus Renault GP made huge strides in 2010 after a miserable 2009, which was marred by both the crash-gate revelations and a dismal eighth in the constructor’s championship. This simply wouldn’t do for the former champions, who split with Flavio Briatore and set about a drastic development programme to improve the R30 chassis, which badly under-performed during winter testing. The team also hired BMW refugee Robert Kubica as lead driver following the loss of Fernando Alonso.
The result was a much improved outfit that finished fifth in the constructors championship and improved throughout 2010. It is always a good sign when each new part introduced improves lap times, as it shows that the team and facilities are all in tune. This bodes well for their 2011 car, and Robert Kubica is more than capable of leading them back to the top of the podium.
Team Lotus on the other hand faced an uphill battle throughout 2010. Having only been granted entry to the championship in September 2009, the T127 chassis was a rushed job. Nevertheless, a monumental effort from Mike Gascoyne and his design crew led to the team being by far the most impressive of the newcomers, eventually securing that all important tenth place in the constructors’ championship, which guarantees them increased revenues for 2011. This, together with a deal to run the championships winning Red Bull-Renault back end for their car which the team have had far more time to develop will undoubtedly lead to a much improved Team Lotus in 2011. Kovalainen and Trulli and good performers when they are in the mood, so there are no excuses on that front.
The battle lines are drawn; who will it be that wins the Lotus derby?