Monaco success a dream too far for Team Lotus
Red Bull Renault won't let minnows repeat high court victory on track, writes David Kennedy
Published 29/05/2011 | 05:00
'Let us alone. What is it that will last? All things are taken from us, and become portions and parcels of the dreadful past'
The Lotus Eaters,
In Monaco this weekend, in one particular pit garage, they were celebrating an important victory. Tony Fernandes was jubilant at the hot-off-the-press news that a high court judge had just ruled that his team has a right to use the name 'Team Lotus'.
Down the way at Renault, by contrast, the team's shareholder and title sponsor 'Group Lotus' -- which is owned by Proton -- were in shock. Proton had originally granted a license to Fernandes for the use of the name 'Lotus Racing' for five years. But one year into the contract they withdrew it.
So Fernandes, who has invested over £80m in his team since its inception in 2009, purchased the dormant name 'Team Lotus' from David Hunt (brother of former world champion James Hunt), who had picked it up from the administrators when the iconic team went bankrupt in 1994.
Just to add to the heady mix, Hunt and Fernandes are also in conflict; with the result that Hunt did not appear in court to help his one-time friend, aka the defendant.
This is a tale of too many Lotuses. 'Team Lotus', as the name suggests, is and was an F1 racing entity, whereas 'Group Lotus' manufactures cars. 'Team Lotus' switched from Cosworth to Renault engines this season. Group Lotus and a company called Genii Capital own the former 'Renault F1' team. It gets even more complicated than that.
Only folk of a certain vintage remember the iconic black and gold Lotus team that was started in the 1950s by Colin Chapman. He died of a heart attack aged 54 in 1982. The Chapman family sold the Lotus company some 20 years ago and since then it has been owned by General Motors, Bugatti and now Proton. But having initially backed Fernandes' 'Team Lotus' in a fanfare of publicity, the Chapmans have switched their allegiance to Lotus-Renault.
Proton is Malaysian, as is the English-educated Fernandes. The car giant was part of a consortium that backed Fernandes when he first entered F1.
This ostensibly 'Lotus v Lotus' court case could have been titled many things. David v Goliath, Malaysia v Malaysia, old F1 v new F1. The verdict, delivered by Mr Justice Peter Smith, was lengthy. Max Mosley, no stranger to courtrooms, gave evidence, which favoured the defence.
This war of the Lotus teams has even trickled down to the F1 feeder series GP2 and GP3. Lotus/Proton has teamed up with ART Grand Prix, owned by Nicholas Todt, son of FIA president Jean Todt (Mosley's successor) and manager of Ferrari driver Felipe Massa. Fernandes also started a GP2 team called Air Asia. They celebrated their first GP2 victory in Monaco at the weekend with Davide Valsecchi.
When you've woken up from the ennui of all these shenanigans -- in Greek mythology the Lotus flower was supposed to cause drowsiness -- you will be pleased to learn that the Monaco Grand Prix takes place today. Let's examine the fortunes of another team that will have its devotees out in force, namely Ferrari.
They're starting to panic a little at the Maranello team, something that would never have been countenanced in the ice cool years of the Jean Todt-Ross Brawn-Michael Schumacher axis.
Impetuous decision-making was never a feature of the super team that once powered their way to five consecutive drivers' titles, relying instead on clinical use of resources and relentless application to the job at hand.
Schumacher steered the car like no one before or since, Brawn kept the design team organised and going in the right direction while Todt kept the politics away from the race team. Those were the halcyon days.
While Ferrari managed its best qualifying performance of the season last weekend, and Fernando Alonso led confidently for two stints before fading in the face of the Red Bull/McLaren onslaught, on the face of it Barcelona surely provided food for tifosi optimism.
Ferrari made two telling announcements recently. One was that they had tethered Fernando Alonso to a long-term deal. The other was that Aldo Costa had stood down as technical director, barely a quarter way through the campaign.
The extension of Alonso's term of employment from the end of 2012 to 2016 was a nice bit of book-keeping. But rearranging the technical department and bringing in Pat Fry, that was the talk of Monaco.
Ferrari must have reasoned that locking the feisty single-minded and super-fast Spaniard into a long-term deal would calm any turbulent waters as they prepare to do battle with the supremacy of Sebastian Vettel, who starts from pole again today. Red Bull were pretty much untouchable on one-lap and long run pace last weekend. Vettel's only loss this season came courtesy of KERS and tyre mismanagement in China.
Two races on, he and his team showed they have plugged that gap in their armoury by handling the tyre strategy, leaving only the KERS problems to be resolved.
In fending off a trademark terrier-like late onslaught from Lewis Hamilton, Vettel won a race that he probably wouldn't have been able to less than a year ago, his title success the final rite of passage to driving maturity.
Alonso, by contrast, is at the absolute peak of his powers. Along with Hamilton, he's the only man on the grid really capable of putting it up to Vettel and even that's debatable based on the form that Vettel has displayed so far.
Back at Ferrari, scapegoats, sacrificial lambs and fall guys are phrases which spring to mind and suggest old-time Italian politics in the grand tradition of Ferrari and which had been pretty much eradicated during the Todt years. Certainly the Italian team could do with some of the serenity that Vettel has acquired in recent races.
Fifty-one years ago Stirling Moss won the Monaco race in a Lotus. Tony Fernandes and his now legitimate 'Team Lotus' have realised plenty of dreams this weekend, but as long as Alonso, Vettel or Hamilton keep their powder clean, winning today's F1 race is unlikely to be one of them.
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