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Lotus feel weight of famous name

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In-depth interview - Tony Fernandes and Mike Gascoyne

By Andrew Benson

The bosses of the new Lotus Formula 1 team admit they are feeling the pressure to succeed that comes from bearing such a famous name.

The Lotus brand, now owned by Malaysian car company Proton, is returning to F1 for the first time since 1994, when the team collapsed for financial reasons.

Design boss Mike Gascoyne said: "There is a pressure to perform and you feel it. Group Lotus want us to perform.

"But I think we will because of the quality of people we're attracting."

The brand won seven world drivers' titles in its former incarnation of Team Lotus before going out of business in 1994, and Gascoyne said the heritage of the name was creating great interest in the new team, which is backed by a consortium of Malaysian businesses.

Team boss Tony Fernandes, founder of the low-budget airline Air Asia, said he was determined to live up to the responsibilities that come with bearing such a famous name.

F1 legend Jim Clark in a Lotus in 1967

"We are very wary of the historic heritage and we want to support that," he said.

"It is a very special heritage. Even the choice of the colour [of the car] is going to evoke enormous debate. We are trying to make sure we keep that heritage from a marketing and branding aspect."

And Gascoyne believes the drive to cut costs in F1, and the pull-out of car manufacturers Honda, BMW and Toyota, is bringing the sport back closer to the way it was when Lotus were successful in the 1960s and '70s.

"F1 has changed over the last few years and is changing to reduce costs," said Gascoyne, who has carved a strong reputation in F1 as technical boss of the Renault, Toyota, Jordan and Force India teams.

"Really over the last 10 years it had become a spending competition.

"Lotus and [founder] Colin Chapman were about engineering innovation. I think it is the right moment for Lotus to be coming back because hopefully that's the way F1 is going to go.

"Small teams, being innovative and good engineering, is really my background, that's what excites me about coming back to F1 with a new team, and that is how we want to work."

We won't be at the front realistically, but we have a great platform to build on

Tony Fernandes
Lotus F1 team principal

The Lotus car company has no stake in the team, but it has given them permission to use the name - and, further emphasising the links with the past, the Chapman family has provided some historic cars to display in the factory in Norfolk.

The team is located not far from Lotus Cars' UK headquarters and the original base of Team Lotus.

Lotus were only given an entry in September, and there is a distinct last-minute feel about the base.

The small, ageing industrial unit on the edge of the village of Hingham - formerly the base of the TOM'S Toyota Formula Three team and the Bentley Le Mans programme - is an incongruous setting for a 21st century F1 team.

The entrance is still a distinctly old-fashioned self-locking revolving door, operated by a manual switch behind the reception desk. And there was wet paint on the floors when BBC Sport visited last week.

It is a long way from the state-of-the-art factories of teams such as McLaren and Renault, but it is only a small part of the Lotus F1 structure.

There is also a design office in Cologne in Germany, the aerodynamics are being done by a company in Bologna in Italy and the team are setting up a new headquarters at the Malaysian Grand Prix circuit outside Kuala Lumpur.

A wind-tunnel model of the new Lotus F1 car
Lotus's new car has undergone wind-tunnel testing in Italy

Eventually, the entire operation will be based in Malaysia, with a satellite base in the UK for logistical and technical reasons - that is where much of the F1 industry is based.

And while Gascoyne and Fernandes are aware of the ad hoc nature of their set-up, there is no mistaking the seriousness of their venture.

Fernandes says: "We are coming from where there wasn't a team, so that is a victory already - the fact that Lotus is back on the grid.

"Of course we'd like to be winning, but we have to be realistic - that's not going to happen.

"Lotus had their highs and towards the end some lows, and then disappearing.

"We won't be at the front realistically, but we have a great platform to build on, we have a great brand and a name, and we're saying to the fans: hang in there, ride with us and enjoy the revival, because there is nothing like being an underdog and rising up.

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"I don't feel a lot of pressure, to be honest. I'm thrilled we're be on the grid - thrilled we'll see a Lotus car and we're involved in it and hopefully that will evoke Lotus road cars to come back into fashion in a big way."

"I hope we'll go from strength to strength, but nobody should think we'll be challenging McLaren or Ferrari in Bahrain - but we will. We're in it to win, but it will take time."

Gascoyne added: "We have set a clear target of being the best of the new teams on the grid, and I think we should be able to do that. We want to be going into Q2 in Bahrain. We'll have to beat one or two of the other [established] teams to do that, but that's where I want to be from day one."



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see also
Lotus F1 team sign first driver
14 Nov 09 |  Formula 1


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