Lotus team, out of Formula One since 1994, granted entry into F1 starting in 2010

By Eileen Ng, AP
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lotus team awarded spot on 2010 Formula One grid

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia — Lotus is returning to Formula One racing.

FIA, the sport’s governing body, on Tuesday awarded Lotus the 13th spot on the grid for the 2010 season.

Lotus has been out of F1 since 1994. The team, initially based in Norfolk, England near the Lotus car factory, is funded by a partnership between the Malaysian government and a consortium of Malaysian businessmen.

The team headquarters is expected to relocate to a purpose-built facility at Sepang International Circuit, home of the Malaysian Grand Prix for the last 11 years.

FIA turned down an application from BMW Sauber, but said the team would be granted a spot in 2010 if a vacancy arises. FIA said it is consulting urgently with teams about a possible expansion to 14 teams and 28 cars for 2010.

Lotus’ team principle will be Tony Fernandes, owner of the Air Asia airline. The team technical director is Mike Gascoyne, who held the same role with Force India, Toyota, Renault and Jordan.

Lotus has reached an engine supply deal with Cosworth.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak held a news conference Tuesday to outline details of what was called the 1Malaysia F1 team.

“The 1Malaysia F1 team is a government and private sector initiative combining the collaborative experience of Proton and Lotus, coupled with world class expertise,” a Malaysian government statement said ahead of the news conference.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said the team would integrate Malaysian technical and pit crew, with the future design, research and development, manufacturing and testing conducted near the Malaysian capital. The driving lineup is set to be announced by Oct. 31 from a short list of six candidates.

Najib declined to give investment costs or other details, but said the future design and testing would be conducted in Malaysia.

He said the venture would be a big boost to local automaker Proton, a government-owned company which has suffered in recent years because of increased competition from foreign car makers after the liberalization of the auto market.

“If we want to export Proton we need to establish our brand name so that it is accepted globally,” Najib said. “We are determined to do our best to make our mark in this arena.”

The investors in the venture are Proton, budget airline AirAsia and Naza Motors, a local auto group.

Najib said the creation of the team is a “natural progression” since Malaysia has hosted a leg of the F1 race since 1999 and national oil company Petronas has been a sponsor of BMW Sauber team for the last four years.

Lotus competed in F1 from 1958-94, winning 79 Grand Prix races and seven constructors’ titles. Lotus had world champion drivers in Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt and Emerson Fittipaldi.

FIA noted that BMW has announced it is pulling out of the sport in 2010, leaving uncertainties over the future ownership of the team.

“Nevertheless, the FIA considers that BMW Sauber’s application is of high quality and would constitute a competitive participant in the championship,” FIA said. “As such, it has awarded BMW Sauber the ‘14th place’ in the championship meaning that it will be entitled to fill any vacancy that arises on the 2010 grid.”

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