No end in sight for Lotus dispute
The chances of resolving the complex Lotus naming dispute out of court look increasingly bleak, meaning there could be two teams starting the new Formula One season with almost the same name.
It is yet another headache for the sport's bosses - the season-opening race is scheduled to take place in the second week of March in Bahrain, currently scene of anti-government protests that have left at least five people dead.
Automaker Proton, which owns a controlling stake in Lotus Group and says it alone has the rights to the Lotus name, and aviation tycoon Tony Fernandes have so far failed to agree on an out-of-court financial settlement.
With the case scheduled to be heard in London's High Court court on March 21, the two Malaysian protagonists had hoped to reach a deal well before then.
But if they cannot, Proton's Lotus Renault GP team will be lining up on the Bahrain grid - assuming the race goes ahead - along with the flamboyant Fernandes' Team Lotus, also known as 1MRT.
Proton's group managing director, Syed Zainal Abidin Tahir, said Fernandes was seeking up to 37 million pounds (60 million dollars) to give up the famous Lotus name.
Proton offered five million pounds, he said.
"In November 2010, 1MRT proposed a settlement of between 22 million pounds to 37 million pounds," Syed Zainal said in a statement to AFP, calling the demand "unreasonable and unjustified.
"For all intents and purposes, 1MRT cannot now demand for us to compensate them for a problem which they got themselves into."
After a 16-year absence, the historic Lotus name returned to Formula One last season under Fernandes, who is the founder of Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia.
Lotus is a name synonymous with F1, providing Champions including Jim Clark and Graham Hill during its golden era in the 1960s and 1970s.
But in September, Proton terminated Fernandes' license to use the Lotus name, forcing him to drop the original name of Lotus Racing and compete as Team Lotus this season.
Fernandes and two other Malaysian associates bought the rights to use the Team Lotus name from David Hunt, brother of late British 1976 World Champion James Hunt.
In December the Lotus Group, which is based in Britain, took a major equity stake in the Renault team for this season, hence Lotus Renault GP.
"Our proposed settlement sum was to settle only the purchase price, allegedly five million pounds for the Team Lotus name," Syed Zainal said.
"Proton and Group Lotus cannot be made liable for their (Team Lotus) commercial misadventure," he said, adding Lotus Group and Proton hoped the dispute would be resolved as soon as possible in the interests of the sport.
"Thus we remain open to reasonable and justified proposals."
Fernandes, who has said he fears the drawn-out issue is keeping sponsors away from his team, recently said he had rejected a six-million-pound offer to settle the dispute.
"It was six million pounds for an out-of-court settlement. Of course I would like to end it but the proposal by Proton would have bankrupted the company. We could not accept it," Fernandes told AFP.
Fernandes, a great fan of the Lotus glory days, said he also remained open to resolving the argument out of court as the hearing date - and the season - nears. PlanetF1