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Wednesday September 29, 2010

Lotus-Proton saga

PETALING JAYA: The country’s two motorsport bigwigs — Proton Holdings Bhd and Lotus Racing Formula One team — are set to clash in the British courts over the rights to the Team Lotus name.

The battle for the Lotus name is even more crucial following reports that Proton’s Lotus Motorsport would be partnering champions ART in Formula One’s GP2 feeder series and GP3 next year.

On Monday, Proton, the national car company, said its subsidiary Group Lotus had terminated its licence to the 1Malaysia Racing Team, effectively barring them from using any Lotus brand including “Team Lotus” and “Lotus Racing” for next year’s and future F1 seasons, alleging “flagrant and persistent breaches of the licence”.

Lotus Racing chief executive officer Riad Asmat disputed Proton’s claim, saying the “Team Lotus” name was acquired after purchasing Team Lotus Ventures Ltd from former British racing driver David Hunt.

“We have today issued proceedings in the English High Court for a declaration that Team Lotus Ventures has the rights to use the Team Lotus name and everything associated with that brand in relation to Formula One,” he said in a statement yesterday.

He said since Tune Group had bought Team Lotus Ventures, Lotus Racing could now use the name for the 2011 F1 season and beyond.

Proton’s statement came in the wake of an announcement in Singapore on Friday by Lotus Racing team principal Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes, who owns Tune Group, that his F1 team would be renamed Team Lotus for the 2011 season.

Fernandes’ Team AirAsia would be competing as a new team in the GP2 and GP2 Asia from 2011 to 2013 and it is learnt that Proton is keen to have a deeper involvement in F1 beyond sponsorship level.

Proton claimed that Hunt had failed in his attempt to acquire the name “Team Lotus” while Riad claimed that the use of the name was “expressly prohibited” under the licence agreement between 1Malaysia Racing and Group Lotus.

“When we signed to compete as Lotus Racing with Group Lotus, they were very clear that we could not make any reference to Team Lotus as they had no rights to the name or its rights,” Riad said, adding that the licence would expire at the end of the year and there was no discussion to extend it.

He said Group Lotus recently tried to revoke the Team Lotus trademarks at the UK Trade Mark Registry but failed.

Singling out Fernandes, Proton Holdings and Group Lotus chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Nadzmi Mohd Salleh said they were the owners of the Lotus brand and would take all necessary steps to protect it.

“Tony Fernandes has no right to use the Lotus brand in the 2011 F1 season and we will strongly resist any attempt to use our brand without permission and will withdraw our sponsorship of the Lotus racing team.”

Malaysia’s privately-funded racing team is jointly owned by Tune Group co-owner Datuk Kamarudin Meranun, Naza Group chief executive officer SM Nasarudin SM Nasimuddin and Fernandes, who is AirAsia group chief executive officer.

Originally founded by Colin Chapman in the 1950s, Team Lotus was one of the most successful teams in Formula One history, winning seven constructors’ titles between 1963 and 1978 before it folded in 1994.


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