Reports have suggested the Malaysian car producer and owner of Norfolk marque Lotus is close to making an announcement connected with F1 – and a deal with Fernandes’ outfit, which was branded Lotus Racing in 2010, might be on the cards.
Such a move by Proton would, in turn, allow Group Lotus to confirm its £100m purchase of a 21pc stake in Renault’s F1 team, which would be renamed Lotus Renault on the 2011 grid.
It would see Lotus’ representation in F1 next year come from a team based near Oxfordshire – but one that finished fifth in this season’s constructors’ championship – while Fernandes’ team, also set to be powered by a Renault engine, will become a flagship Malaysian constructor hoping to build on tenth place in its first season.
The team’s home would most likely still remain at Hingham, where its GP2 companion – Team Air Asia – and long-term plans for a wind tunnel facility remain.
Both sides had ambitions to race in F1 next year under the Norfolk marque – a battle threatening to spill into the British courts after Fernandes bought the naming rights for Team Lotus from David Hunt in September.
Hethel-based Group Lotus took exception to that move, and they are aiming to clear a path to carry the Lotus name in F1 next season. A financial package from Proton for Fernandes’ team would ease the threat of them losing their slice of the 2010 F1 cash pie, which they may lose out on if the team changes its name.
One development made official last night was Group Lotus’ decision to become the third engine supplier to the United States’ Indy Car series from 2012.
The announcement, made at the Los Angeles Auto Show, confirmed Lotus have signed a five year deal starting to supply in-house engines and aero body kits for teams in the IndyCar series. Group Lotus will also create a motorsport facility in Indianapolis to ensure it has a base near the action in the US.
Lotus chief executive Dany Bahar said: “Lotus is unique in the automotive world, no other car company has been more successful in such a wide variety of motorsports discipline, whether it is Le Mans, World Rally, Sportscars, F1 of course and Indy Car. This year we teamed up with KV Racing for IndyCar and we will significantly increase our participation next year.
However, in 2012 IndyCar competitors will have the exciting opportunity to choose an IndyCar with a Lotus engine and aero body kit, immediately becoming part of a legacy that is Lotus; one of the most innovative and successful sports and racing car brands in the world.”
Indy Car chief Randy Bernard added: “Lotus is a renowned name in racing, with a long association with some of the greatest names of motorsports.”
Lotus’ Indy Car engine – rumoured to be a Cosworth build – will follow the series’ agreed rules, meaning a 2.4 litre capacity up to six cylinders, and turbo charged to produce between 550 and 700 horsepower.