An old favourite returned to Formula One and a company with Middle East links got their hands on an existing team during a day of frantic activity for the sport yesterday. First came the announcement from Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) that Lotus will be back on the grid next season for the first time since 1994, marking a comeback for one of the most romantic names in motorsport.
Soon after, BMW Sauber announced the F1 team had been sold to Qadbak Investments Ltd, the Switzerland-based company funded mainly from Qatar. Qadbak are also the parent company of Notts County Football Club's owners Munto Finance. The modern day version of Lotus will be funded by a partnership between the Malaysian government and a consortium of Malaysian businessmen. The team's Formula One career began in 1952 and they have won the constructors' championships on seven occasions and the drivers' titles six times. They were based in tranquil Norfolk, England, about 15km from the Lotus car factor.
Plans are now being drawn up to locate the team's design, research and development, manufacturing and technical centre at Malaysia's Sepang International Circuit. Lotus beat off competition from BMW Sauber and Epsilon Euskadi after BMW announced in July they would not compete next year. They are joined by F1's three other new arrivals - Campos GP, Manor and US F1 - from the start of next season. Yesterday the FIA gave also BMW Sauber "14th place" on the grid next year, meaning they are first reserves to fill any vacancy.
"The team expects to line up on the grid for the first race of the 2010 season," said a team statement. One man who will definitely be there is the Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes, who has been named as the Lotus team principal. Respected Formula One figure Mike Gascoyne will bring his experience of working with Force India, Jordan and Renault as technical director. And an engine deal has been struck with Cosworth.
The Malaysian government yesterday outlined their plans for the new team they call 1Malaysia F1. In a statement, they said: "The 1Malaysia F1 team is a government and private sector initiative combining the collaborative experience of Proton and Lotus, coupled with world class expertise. "We are determined to do our best to make our mark in this arena." Six drivers have been shortlisted to take the wheel for Lotus, with an announcement expected at the end of October.
After the FIA awarded Lotus the coveted 13th spot they said it had been a close race. "The FIA also received an impressive application from the BMW Sauber Team. "However, given that BMW has announced it will withdraw its support in 2010, there are still uncertainties regarding the future ownership of the team," the governing body said. But BMW Sauber's financial future looked clearer yesterday, after the deal with Qadbak, who said they were acting on behalf of "certain Middle Eastern and European-based families".