Q & A with Dany Bahar
By Jonathan Noble Wednesday, December 15th 2010, 19:01 GMT
The controversy over the use of the Lotus brand in Formula 1 shows no sign of abating, with both Tony Fernandes’ team Lotus and Renault’s new title sponsor and shareholder Group Lotus standing firm.
Group Lotus CEO Dany Bahar met with the press in London today to explain his position, and AUTOSPORT was there.
Dany BaharQ. Can you try to explain to us how we have ended up with a messy situation where there is a Lotus-sponsored Renault and a Renault-powered Lotus?
Dany Bahar: First of all, I don’t believe that we are the cause of this messy situation. But secondly, and this is my personal opinion, I don’t think we will end up in a situation where we have two Lotus teams out there. But if this is the case then we will be competing against them like any other team as well.
Q. So are you a man who is confident that the team currently known as Lotus will not be known as Lotus in the future – and that Group Lotus should claim the name?
DB: Not at all. I am not a lawyer and I would never judge on something that is outside of my control. So therefore I can just see what our shareholders are trying to achieve with the other party, and since they are two Malaysian parties I have confidence they will be reaching an amicable solution. And this is all I am trying to explain to you.
Q. Given that Lotus the car company is owned by Proton, the Malaysian state controlled car company, and given that the current Lotus team is Malaysian controlled as well – why are you not partnering them?
DB: There were many routes that caused this situation. The two Malaysian entities entered into talks long before our management group arrived at Lotus Group – so there was no real business plan, no real motorsport plan for Group Lotus at that time and I believe that Proton thought at the time it was the right thing to do. But when we came along and presented a business plan that included not only a transformation of the road car business but also heavy investment into motor racing to support the sales of our cars, I believe they suddenly understood that this is something you cannot separate from each other because one needs the other party, and this is where we are at today.
Q. Have you had discussions with Tony Fernandes? Did you want to be a part of that at any stage?
DB: Since this world is obviously very small, we had various discussions and I think our shareholders had even more discussions than we had, but I believe the situation at the moment is one that we were not able to reach an amicable solution. But we are trying hard to get there.
Q. Are you trying to keep alive the Lotus name, its history and its heritage – or is this just a car company investing in Formula 1?
DB: No. We are not claiming to be Team Lotus or to become Team Lotus. Team Lotus is something that should rest in peace. They had a glorious past, and incredible success. All we are trying to do is to make use of the heritage, as probably any other car company would do as well to support their sales and to market their products.
But we do not want to become a second Team Lotus. We will never be. It is just, as you say, a car company trying to come up with a new Formula 1 programme.
Q. You are investing and becoming a partner in the Renault team. Do you stay as Renault for the future, or is this a team that could be fully Lotus in four or five years’ time?
DB: Well, we follow the same Lotus strategy we apply in every single motor racing activity we have decided to enter. We first of all, just act as a sponsor and maybe a shareholder, but we leave the things as they are today. They are good as they are today – Renault is an exceptional name, we keep the name as it is, and the chassis will be called a Renault.
So we stay as it is for the next two years. And what the future brings, with maybe a new Concorde Agreement, we will see. But for the moment we act as a sponsor, we have the influence as a shareholder and this is good for us as it is.
Q. Why do you feel so confident that there will be an amicable solution to the Team Lotus row?
DB: Oh, I am not confident at all! I am just a positive thinking person. I am hoping that these two parties, since they are Malaysian, they will come to an agreement and hopefully with some pressure here or there. I just hope there will be a solution. If there is no solution then the road is clear. There are courts in place and they will deal with the matter. It is not in our control now.
Q. But isn’t that a problem for you because the fans are very confused about which team is the real Lotus and which one they should be supporting…
DB: For the fans it is not an easy situation. They are confused because there is a Lotus team, but maybe the fans have also not seen the whole full picture of who is the car company. Maybe they are confused a bit because is this not the car company who gave them the licence, and now we are trying to stop them from racing under the name?
So it is a bit confusing, I understand. But that is why I am saying I personally do not believe there will be a confusion next year in Formula 1, because I think we will be able to sort it out before.
Q. Does it concern you that as journalists we are unlikely to use the name Lotus to describe your team next year because you are simply a sponsor – just as we don’t use Vodafone to describe McLaren, AT&T to describe Williams or Petronas to describe Mercedes?
DB: Yes, I understand that and we are fully aware of this, and we were aware of this before we did this move. However, when we fully decide to enter into an activity of this size, it is a long-term agreement, a long-term activity for us. It is not about the next year or the next two years, it is something to establish, to give the sustainability to the whole company for the next 10 years.
We are well aware that we cannot change the mechanisms that are in place today by changing the chassis name, because this would have a lot of negative consequences. We are fine being a sponsor at the moment, and we have to respect the fact that commentators will just use the name Renault. That is unfortunately as it is.
Q. So this is the first step along the route to Lotus the car-maker becoming fully-fledged into F1?
DB: Yes, definitely. Otherwise we would not have chosen F1 as our platform. I don’t think it makes sense to enter just for two years with the sticker on the car without having a long-term plan for it and without having a heavy involvement. And having involvement is something that we are trying to maximise as much as possible from day one by setting up a group of engineers that are working in Enstone and trying to get technology transfer from F1 into our new road cars.
This is all we can do in the short term, but it is a long-term plan and the time will come when we will be in charge of doing the things the way Lotus was always doing.
Q. It has been said that Lotus’ long-term plans include building an F1 engine. Can you set out a timeframe for that?
DB: I think this is a very long way from us. However, we have plans under way to think about our own engine family in our road car programmes for the future. The fact that we have announced that we will be developing an engine for IndyCar for 2012 shows you already that we are heavily interested in becoming an engine manufacturer with our own brand. We have the capacity. We built and design engines for other OEMs, so there is no reason why we cannot design and build engines for ourselves.
I believe on the road car side that the engine is the heart of any sportscar and it is not far away from thinking for us that it would be the right decision to build our own engine for the future sportscars, and once you have done that, and you can maybe apply the technology on the client racing side, with GT4, GT2, where the base technology should derive from, it is the next logical step that all those activities will have the Lotus engine potentially as well.
So then it is the same with any other motor racing activity. Once you commit to motor racing, you have to go all the way up. I don’t want to rule this out – but this is way ahead of us and not an issue at the moment.
Q. You have said you want to be the Porsche of Great Britain rather than a new Ferrari. Can you talk a little about that?
DB: No, this should not sound like Ferrari or any other company. I just think that it is realistic thinking if we decide to build a sportscar in a certain segment. It is also a benefit for the customer that you have your own engine in there, and you have your specific characteristics and dynamics. The engine should be relative to the car you offer, so it should be in sync. If you have an engine that comes from somewhere else, you can modify heavily but the base is the base.
With Toyota, where we enjoy a fantastic relationship, they do not manufacture engines from scratch for us. They obviously take a base of a mass volume product and we modify it heavily, so you will never be able to get to the results you need for a sportscar. So, I just think that this is a first step in having a complete own product – a sportscar with an own engine. And then the rest is a logical consequence.
If you have a sportscar, an Esprit for example, you would want to participate in the GT2 series and the base engine has to be from the road car series anyway. So this is your own engine there, and LMP2 as well. And the decision that is needed to be made is whether you go one step further and say we commit ourselves to become a race engine manufacturer, which is another world as well. That would actually fit into our plans, but at the moment that is not the case at all
Q. The traditional colours of Lotus have been green and yellow, and all your motor racing activities outside of F1 next year will be in those colours. Can you explain why in F1 you will be black and gold then? Would it not have been better to have all the racing activities with the same brand?
DB: We will have all the activities at the Birmingham [AUTOSPORT International] show and we will be showing all this project alive there. We decided to differentiate F1 and all the motorsport activities because F1 is something special and we would like to give it a special looking and feel.
Q. The black and gold colours hark back to the famous John Player Special sponsorship of the past. Are you not worried about criticisms you are actually advertising tobacco, or could be linked with that?
DB: I don’t think we are using the kind of logos that the John Player Special cars used. I simply believe, and again this is my personal opinion, I believe this is one of the two most beautiful liveries in Formula 1. This is why we will use it, and nothing else. I do not believe we will have any negative implications with potential tobacco advertising.
Q. You have said you don’t want to be Team Lotus, but you also said in your press release last week that ‘we are Lotus and we are back.’ Is that not a contradiction?
DB: What I meant by this was that under Colin Chapman, he had a business. It was divided into two areas – a racing business and a car business. One area was here to finance the other business. They were not separate from each other, and it was not intended to be separate although maybe from a former point of view, you are right that there were two separate entities but still under one guidance and one owner.
What we meant by saying Lotus is back is that we see Lotus as just one brand – it is the car manufacturer. There is no other car that has been called Lotus out there, so Lotus the car manufacturer is back, which is supposed to be in the group of companies that Mr. Chapman owned. So we see it as one. We never did the distinction of this is Team Lotus as completely separate from the road cars. We don’t see it that way. We believe it is one car, one brand, one company. It was just supposed to be split in a formal way, but nothing else.
Q. You have also said RIP to Team Lotus. So will you be disappointed if there is a Team Lotus on the grid next season, and are you surprised Tony Fernandes is pursuing the route he is going?
DB: No. I cannot comment for Mr Fernandes, but if he believes he has all the legal grounds to own this brand, then he should use it. I don’t believe we are fighting this. What we are 100 per cent certain of is that we own the brand that is called Lotus, which is associated with the car manufacturer. And that Lotus brand has the right to enter in any sports activity. And if any chassis will be called a Lotus then it is our chassis, and no one else’s.
We don’t claim to have the name Team Lotus or to use the name Team Lotus. That is not what it is all about. We just don’t want other people to call their car a Lotus because the Lotus car is our brand and that is all.
Q. Tony Fernandes said last weekend that the ideal solution for him would have been a tie-up with Group Lotus. Would that have been your best route too if the price had been right?
DB: Yes, I think so. If the price had been right and if some conditions would have been more realistic, then I believe this would have been the right approach. We were not afraid of partnering with Mr Fernandes, but as I said, there is one way that Lotus does business – and this is getting involved and not just putting the logo on the car.
We need to be involved in the management. We need to take decisions together. We need to fund it together as well, which is fine, but it cannot just be that we are seen as a sponsor, we pay the cheque and everything else is run by someone else. That is something that we will never do. And even if it is a public perception, it will never happen.
But, as I said before, if we have to take a detour for one year or two years in order to reach control, then we will take this into consideration as long as our brand is respectfully presented and we have the maximum benefits of it for our support and sales. But it was not just the price. There were many elements that meant we could not find the deal.