The Lotus F1 boss Tony Fernandes is hoping his team will become the one most supported by fans in the Middle East when they make their debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix in March. Lotus will be one of four new teams on the grid next season but Fernandes, whose team have Malaysian roots, believes fans in the UAE and elsewhere in the region will cheer for F1's latest Asian team. "That's the aim," said Fernandes, who owns the budget airline AirAsia. "I hope that the Middle East will be interested in what we're doing - the Middle East is Asia."
Lotus face rivalry for the attentions of UAE F1 fans. Mercedes are now 30 per cent owned by Abu Dhabi wealth fund Aabar Investments while the Ferrari World complex at the Yas Marina Circuit is likely to make Ferrari duo Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa favourites with locals. But Fernandes believes that neither team can boast the same geographical appeal as Lotus on their return to F1. "I think there will be a lot of goodwill towards the team in the Middle East," he said. "For example, if I was watching a football match and there was an Abu Dhabi team taking on Manchester United, I'd support the Abu Dhabi team. I'm sure the people of Abu Dhabi will do the same for us."
Fernandes already boasts close links with Abu Dhabi - his AirAsia airline has flights from the city to Kuala Lumpur. The entrepreneur was in Abu Dhabi recently to watch Barcelona beat Estudiantes in the Club World Cup final but refused to reveal whether he had discussed possible sponsorship deals for his Lotus F1 team while in the region. Following on from the success of last year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Fernandes said: "F1 is still fairly new to the region but I genuinely believe there will be an Abu Dhabi world champion in F1 - I'm sure of it" @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org