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Lotus F1 row takes new twist

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Andrew Benson | 11:56 UK time, Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A new twist in the long-running row over the use of the Lotus name in Formula 1 has emerged with the announcement that the owners of Team Lotus have bought niche sportscar manufacturer Caterham.

Tony Fernandes and his partners see Caterham, which makes replicas of the old Lotus Seven two-seater open-top sportscar, as a company with historic links and "synergies" with Team Lotus that allows them to realise their ambition of diversifying into making road cars.

Their original plan was to do that with Group Lotus, the company that markets Lotus sportscars, but as Fernandes puts it: "That obviously didn't turn out very well."

What the Malaysian businessman, and owner of budget airline Air Asia, is referring to is the increasingly bitter dispute between him and Group Lotus that has ended up in the High Court.

When Fernandes and his partners first set up what was then called the Lotus Racing F1 team last year, it was with the blessing of Group Lotus, which licensed them the name. But in the course of 2010 Group Lotus's new chairman Dany Bahar decided he wanted to go his own way in F1.

He terminated Fernandes' licence, and switched instead to a sponsorship deal with the Renault team. Fernandes, seeing this coming, bought the rights to the historic Team Lotus name as a fall-back.

Both issues - the termination of the licence and the ownership of the Team Lotus name - are wrapped up in a court case that was heard last month, with a verdict expected early in May.

Fernandes is widely expected to win the rights to continue to use Team Lotus. He bought it legitimately from its previous owner, David Hunt, brother of the late world champion James, and Group Lotus has always acted in the past as if it knew it did not own the name.

Nevertheless, buying Caterham does provide Fernandes with an interesting fall-back option should the court case go against him. Now he owns his own car company, he could re-name the F1 team after it should he want to.

Lotus F1 cars and the Caterham Seven

Team Lotus owner Tony Fernandes now has Caterham in his business portfolio

For now, though, he says that is not an option. Fernandes told BBC Sport that he is "absolutely not" going to change the name of Team Lotus. Although he does add: "Obviously we have to wait for the verdict to see exactly what has been decided. But we see a very natural link between Team Lotus and Caterham, and they can be synergistic and promote each other, and there is some DNA between the two anyway. It's not like we've bought a brand that has no association with Team Lotus at all. It's just the opposite."

The Caterham name will, though, soon appear on the Team Lotus F1 cars - although exactly when and how has yet to be decided - and the company will eventually contribute to the Lotus budget as a sponsor.

Assuming he retains the rights to Team Lotus, that still leaves Fernandes in the sticky position of providing free promotion to a company with which he is in dispute and has no links.

Unsurprisingly, he did not want to get into that on the day of his big announcement, but he could not resist a little snipe or two at Bahar.

Fernandes says he sees Caterham as very much following the legacy of the late Lotus founder Colin Chapman. "In some ways," he says, "we have reunited the Chapman history. Lotus is all about lightweight, more is less. That is all the terminology we like, and it fits with F1. We feel there is a huge opportunity for Caterham in a market no one is really looking at right now."

By that, he means lightweight, affordable sportscars that are within reach of ordinary people. This was Chapman's approach, and one which, Fernandes says, "certain people have abandoned". That is a reference to Bahar's plans to take Lotus upmarket and challenge Porsche and Ferrari with his mooted five new Lotus models by 2015.

So far, the dispute between the two Lotuses has not reached the race tracks of F1.

Team Lotus started this season with chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne setting ambitious targets of catching Renault by the end of the season, but that looks out of reach for now - Renault have started the season strongly enough to set their own difficult goal, of beating Ferrari to third place in the constructors' championship.

But Team Lotus have also started the season well. The car has had reliability problems, but it also has underlying pace, and in the last race in China they beat established teams for the first time since entering F1 at the beginning of last year, with Heikki Kovalainen finishing ahead of a Sauber and a Williams.

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Kovalainen's performance is a clear indicator that Lotus's more realistic target, of scoring points and mixing it with the established teams, is achievable.

Fernandes himself has his feet firmly on the ground. "You build things properly and with the right structure and things will fall into place," he says. "My target this year was to maintain 10th, and hopefully sneak a few points along the way. That is still my target.

"It is beginning to feel more realistic now, but one can't build a challenging F1 team in two years. We are competing against guys who have been there for 30 years but obviously the team smell big steps of improvement. They smell points.

"I never want to kill confidence, I encourage it, but I am also a realist and we are competing against nine guys who have been doing it for years and are very good at it.

"But if you'd asked me do I think at Turkey (the next race on 8 May) you'd be where you are, I wouldn't have believed it.

"We've got a good package and good people, we have put all the infrastructure in place.

"We're working on a new wind tunnel; that's the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and I think if you put all the pieces of the puzzle together then the results will come in good time."


  • Comment number 1.

    It is obvious what is happening. Fernandes, from a country with no racing heritage or historic brands, has always wanted to be associated with a classic car brand. He tried with Lotus and failed and it's now just a matter of time until Team Lotus is renamed to Caterham F1.

    It doesn't have quite the same ring to it and I think he really would have got on better if he'd just called it Team AirAsia. But of course, when you have an airline to your name already one always needs something better to achieve.

  • Comment number 2.

    I admire Team Lotus' ambition and what they have achieved, but I think they are trying too hard to be Lotus. Caterham is a good fall back point, but Caterham and F1 don't go well in my opinion (kit cars vs pinnacle of motorsport)

    I suppose we will have to wait and see what happens at the high court

  • Comment number 3.

    Looks like Tony F is preparing for war with Bahar, both on the F1 Grid and on the Motorways!

    I like both teams on F1, but seeing a Caterham on the road is far more special than seeing a Lotus. Would love to see Caterham make some sort of a comeback!

  • Comment number 4.

    I think Tony F is spot on with this move.

    If Caterham were to build a mid-engined sportscar - think proper replacement for the MR2 mk2 (not the car for hairdressers Toyota served up for the mk3) - they would get my money, and, I expect, the money of a lot of others; RX8, MX5, S2000, elises, all good cars, all potential targets for Caterham.

    Oh, and Chris W (post #2) - are F1 cars not kit cars? Prototypes, limited production runs, assembled and disassembled every other weekend for racing... F1 cars are closer to kit cars than they are to road cars.

  • Comment number 5.

    I am looking forward to this development as I have always been a fan of Lotus & Caterham road cars. In terms of what Team Lotus & Fernandes' vision is, it is sensible, humble & appropriate. Bahar's approach is also appropriate for how he wants to market his business.

    Group Lotus want to challenge the established order & make money in the executive sports car market. Fair enough & the approach they have taken is correct. It's just a shame they handled it & Fernandes so badly. Good for Tony though in that he has already covered his bases.

    Good luck to him & their team in the future!

  • Comment number 6.

    So why not look at this the other way round? Lotus Cars are not what they once were. Caterham is a 'Lotus 7' so who is to say that TF won't rename Caterham to be 'Team' Lotus in order to recreate the racing legend completely.

    Group Lotus will be percieved as a Renault, just like Jaguar X type was a Ford Mondeo. Then again, it's getting into a bit too much of a conspiracy theory/gossip situation and that's not realistic either.

    Would be funny though!

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm really quite happy with this turnup.

    Last year it was good to See a 'Lotus' back in F1, but in the back of your mind everybody had to admit that it wasn't really Lotus.
    Group Lotus is built from the F1 team of old, and they are making moves to become increasingly involved in F1 - This I think is a true Lotus/F1 partnership.

    Fernandes buying Caterham is great - they can become a 'Genuine' (as it were) Caterham F1 team... after all, in the real world; Caterham is an Evolution of Lotus.

    I think the whole thing is just too perfect for words, and I can go back to supporting both!!!!

  • Comment number 8.

    Rename Caterham "Team Lotus", focus on making affordable, lightweight and innovative racecars for the road. Develop the 7 concept as well as, create "Classic" and "Evolution" ranges, the latter having better aero, styling and maybe even a bit of comfort.

  • Comment number 9.

    I think you will find that the Lotus 7 that is now reproduced by Caterham was a race car brought to the road by Colin Chapman.

    The modern Caterhams are more race than road cars, for a start they are production cars that can be bought in kit form as well, the CSR model runs a 2.3 Cossworth engine with 260BHP a 6 speed sequential gear box, inboard suspension and every joint is a rose joint and weighs 520Kg in race set-up, power to weight is amazing!!!

    I think its great news for Caterham who have just produced this......

    Let’s see what unfolds.

  • Comment number 10.

    Andrew - Caterham don't build replicas of the Lotus 7, they purchased the rights to the design of the Lotus 7 from Colin Chapman and Lotus Cars (i.e. Group Lotus). As such they build actual Lotus 7's based upon the modified original design. The likes of Westfield, Dax and various others build replicas and Westfield in particular were the subject of litigation due to infringement of Caterham's IP.

    No. 7 - Group Lotus is not built from the F1 team of old, Team Lotus was the F1 team of old. Try to keep up!

    Personally I think it is brilliant, the 7 is still a great, cheap(ish) sports car. The scale of TF's ambition means that we will most likely see additional products which perhaps will replace the current Lotus Cars models which will be lost in the Bahar money pit.

    Lets see how it unfolds...

  • Comment number 11.

    Having been a fan of F1 since the seventies, owning a Lotus Elise and still holding out the hope of building a Caterham I am very pleased with this announcement. I believe Caterham are producing cars in the true Lotus vein which cannot be said about the new cars being mooted by Group Lotus.

    Well done Tony!! You have made one fan very happy!!!

  • Comment number 12.

    Didn't Colin Chapman use cash from Lotus Cars to finance Team Lotus?
    Other than that, I think the two were kept as distinctly separate entities, with Team Lotus doing the racing and Lotus Cars doing the selling. From that standpoint, I don't think Dany Bahar and Group Lotus (Proton) have a sensible claim to the Team Lotus name, and the sponsorship tie in with Renault is just laughable.
    How many manufacturers names do you need on the one car?

  • Comment number 13.

    I keep reading how Colin Chapman believed in affordability and light weight at all costs etc. However i think this is to re-write history somewhat.

    It was while Chapman was in charge that he sold off the seven design and headed up market!

    I think the team needs to be rebranded Team Caterham. I suspect long standing fans would support both teams then, and others would make their minds up based on each teams ethos.

    At the end of the day Group Lotus was built up by Colin Chapman and the supercars of the 70's and 80's were just as much a part of the Lotus legacy as the smaller lighter cars of the 50's and 60's. If Tony Fernandez wants to hark back to that era of Lotus and bearing in mind the fact that the squad is a very good new team (but not a continuation of the original Team Lotus) he would be better celebrating the earlier Colin Chapman legacy under the Caterham name which has been doing so since the early 70's.

    Lets hope we see a Team Caterham soon and then this can all be settled properly on the track rather than in the courts.

  • Comment number 14.

    The original Sevens were widely sold as kits.

  • Comment number 15.

    Interesting tax position emerges: I may be wrong but:
    I presume that Fernandez was subsidising his F1 team through taxed income. If in future the money comes from sponsorship from Caterham then Caterham's pre tax profts will be reduced to virtually nothing thus UK Treasury loses out on corporation tax, and at the same time Fernandez avoids income tax on UK earnings derived from ownership of Caterham.

    Just a thought!

  • Comment number 16.

    Personally I don't really get the above announcement. How has he covered all bases by acquiring Caterham? If he loses the Team Lotus name, he loses the Team Lotus name. End of. So why not wait another month to find out and save some money. Caterham will still be there in June. Anyway there seems to be a very good chance that he will win the case and keep the name. The name Caterham means nothing to people outside the UK and would only be recognised by a small minority over here. I can't see international sponsors flocking to TF waving their cheque books to be asociated with that name as an F1 team.

    Maybe someone will buy Morgan and use their name on an F1 car next!

  • Comment number 17.

    If I had the means, I Would buy the "Morgan" name and race it in F1

  • Comment number 18.

    "Caterham, which makes replicas of the old Lotus Seven two-seater open-top sportscar" - Point of fact: Caterhams AREN'T replicas, Caterham bought the rights to manufacture the Seven from Lotus - they make GENUINE Sevens.

  • Comment number 19.

    Odd bunch of readers.
    Whereas some clearly know their stuff, there appears to be a lot of oddballs who haven't got a clue

    a. Caterham is global and successful, both with sales and racing series [inc the far east]

    b. Caterham deal was sorted end of last year

    c. Team Lotus and Group Lotus were always separate entities

    d. Chapman was always wheeling and dealing around the globe, even with Team Lotus

    e. Check the history on naming for some of the other teams, Renault for a start; the current Lotus decals on their wing are just a cheque book exercise in sponsorship, a small man's wanna-be version of Vodaphone or Marlboro.


  • Comment number 20.

    I think TF & Co may have just pulled off a master stroke. Bahar (IMO) did a pretty nice job of back-stabbing and now he'll have to pitch his Proton-Lotus against the British (and presently largly hand-crafted) Caterham Lotus. Yeah, good luck with that, Mr Bahar.

    Meanwhile, if we're resurrecting old British car marques as F1 teams, I'll plump for Alvis...

    Best of luck to TF et al.

  • Comment number 21.

    Firstly, I would like to wish Tony Fernandes well with his new venture, as a petrolhead it is exciting to think of what the future might hold for Caterham Cars and it can only be good for the British automotive industry.

    Secondly, I do not understand the sudden hatred of Group Lotus, this is still the same company that provided such icons as the Elan, Esprit & Elise and many of the people involved in these cars are still there today. Whether you like Mr Bahar or not surely we should still celebrate this company and wish it and it's staff future success and glory, not failure and demise of another great British marque?

  • Comment number 22.

    I think its a shame the tie up between TF and Group Lotus didn't happen and I can't understand why Bahar appeared to scupper it. I have to agree with those who point out though that Bahar is not the first to try and bring Lotus into Porsche and Ferrari territory, the Elite, Excel and Espirit were Chapman's attempts at doing that.

  • Comment number 23.

    I fully agree with #21 and wish TF and his team all the best. Smart move taking over Caterham - it 1.) provides 'some' heritage to support Team Lotus, 2.) represents a big step forward in achieving TF's desire to focus on the production of affordable sports cars, and 3.) should place Caterham Cars on a much more sound financial footing. I was actually at the Caterham showroom this afternoon and these are such great and iconic cars.

    So, of course, are the Elise, Exige and Evora. However, in my view I think it is Group Lotus that needs to be careful. They have had a very up and down ownership and financial history for many years and I would hate to see them make the wrong product move now. The proposed move upmarket is very much into Mr Bahar's territory - where his previous experience lies - but is it the right move for Lotus?

    I have to admit to being old enough to remember watching the great Jim Clark winning Grand Prix in the wonderful Lotus 25 and Lotus 33, flinging Lotus Cortinas into bends with one front wheel off the ground - not to mention his Indy 500 win in the fabulous Lotus 38. These are the things that a racing heritage is made of - not simply putting the evocative Team Lotus name on the side of a brand new F1 team or for that matter putting the Lotus name and the black and gold colours on someone elses Formula One car (Renault) when arguably the financial outlay could be better spent in terms of ambitious new upmarket product plans.

    I truly hope that all the remaining issues can be sorted out for the good of the car companies involved and for the Lotus representation in F1. With the arguable exception of Ferrari, there is probably a no more iconic name in F1's history than Lotus. Let's hope that the result of all this is more success on the track that justifies the Lotus name on the side of the cockpit and truly adds to a great heritage.


  • Comment number 24.

    Hi Andrew,

    Just a quickie; I'm 99% sure that the TF quote above should read: "we have reunited the Chapman history. Lotus is all about lightweight, less is more." Rather than more is less.

    This is backed up in the issue of Lotus Notes released today where he's quoted as saying "Caterham Cars has remained wholly faithful to Colin Chapman's philosophy of 'less is more'".

    As a side note to the other contributors, I can only add that I'm very excited to see what the Caterham company can do with a new investment of marketing capital and business savvy.

    I think it's a great shame the Lotus relationship originally fell apart, and perhaps Fernandes should have re-assessed his options then to avoid the situation of promoting a company that has mistreated him.

    But it would be a rare individual who had walked away from every situation they should do at the perfect moment, and in fairness Fernandes does appear on the surface to have been wronged.

    I suppose in both the upcoming battles in the courts and the car market, only time will tell.

  • Comment number 25.

    As I understand it, all Sevens were sold as kits, if one wanted a finished vehicle Lotus would have a subcontractor (most likely Caterham) build the kit. This was for tax and other reasons. That's how Caterham got involved with the Lotus Seven. As far being known outside the UK, we have been aware of Caterham on this side of the pond for quite a while. It was really the only way to get a Seven in the US.

    As far as Team Lotus and Lotus Group go, neither have as much direct connection to Lotus Cars of old as Caterham does. Lotus Group belonged to GM at one point and Team Lotus ceased to exist as anything other than name when Colin Chapman's widow sold the name to Hunt in the 90's. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    I like the current Elise/Exige, don't want it to get bigger or heavier. The Caterham is the truest expression of Colin Chapman's vision. I do believe the 2-11 is spot on as far as Group Lotus is concerned; I wish it was still manufactured. I do believe the Ariel Atom is something Colin would have approved of.

    I am building my own Lotus Seven clone with IRS from an MX-5. I plan on a Porsche 911 powered Atom clone/evolution next but may resort to VW turbo power.

  • Comment number 26.

    I failed to say I'd like to see TF succeed with Caterham. I hope there will greater Caterham presence in the US, though it will not be everyone's cup of tea, there are enough motoring purists here for increased sales.

  • Comment number 27.

    Well done Mr Fernandes. "Now Everyone Can Drive" just like his airasia airline tagline.
    I foresee that he will succeed in capturing the median sportcars market.

  • Comment number 28.

    Chris W at 12.50pm said: "Caterham and F1 don't go well in my opinion (kit cars vs pinnacle of motorsport)".

    What about high-sugar, high-caffeine drinks and F1, if we're talking about major partners here? What about Ferrari's long-time tobacco partner?

    As for non-major sponsors/advertisers, anything goes - airlines, electronic appliances, alcoholic beverages (Johnnie Walker, Whyte & Mackay), Indian auto company (Tata), Russian auto company (Lada), Malaysian auto company (Naza) clothes & accessories (Hugo Boss), watches, logistics, telcos, IT industry, banks, insurance, etc, etc...

    Caterhams and F1 cars are assembled by hand. A lot of their parts are hand-made.

  • Comment number 29.

    Post No. 4 (Amiga500) - Spot on with your comments fella!

    I really hope Tony F does win through all of this. And fingers crossed he may be the guy that brings affordable fun sports cars to the masses :) As with Team Lotus I really do hope they get some points this season. I have nothing against the other Lotus team but it was a bad move using the Lotus name as well. Renault is historical enough in F1.

  • Comment number 30.

    @ Moosesport23: of course the likes of you and I know about Caterhams (that's why we've posted on here), but do you really the think the world at large does? They're a small company who don't even need the sort of global advertising exposure that a Renault, Mercedes or even Ferrari demand. Anyone who's interested in buying the sort of niche vehicle that they produce will be aware of them, just like the sort of buyer who would be interested in a Morgan. Both are cars for motoring enthusiasts, rather than mass produced commodities (as "Troubleshooter" Sir John Harvey Jones famously discovered at Morgan!)

    Irrespective of the Court ruling, it clearly doesn't make any sense for TF's F1 team name to continue to give free advertising to the roadcars of Group Lotus, so maybe he should have just cut his losses and rebranded this season as AirAsia Racing to help promote his core business, rather than getting involved with the cottage industry of Caterham Cars.

  • Comment number 31.

    I believe the Datsun name is up for grabs. Maybe good for HRT to rebrand.

  • Comment number 32.

    I say "good on ya TF", I don't care what nationality or country he comes from, he is doing more to secure British jobs than a lot of UK companies do, fair enough, not in huge numbers though. If all goes well, he will take the Caterham name from it's grass roots following to a world audience and prove that the UK is still a leader in engineering under the leadership of Mike Gasgoinge.

    With his philosophy of great team work and gradual improvements, I feel that Team Lotus shares more of the original ideals than Group Lotus.

    If I ever had the chance to work for an F1 team, Team Lotus would be my choice, although I am a McLaren fan, I always watch with great interest how TL are doing.

  • Comment number 33.

    I hope Tony Fernandes' team come out of all this mess on top. They deserve it. His Team Lotus are a great team, full of ambition and strength and I hope to see them rise to the top one day under the Lotus banner.

  • Comment number 34.

    Has anyone ever said anything good about Mr Bahar? I can't find a good word about him, why do Proton rate him?

  • Comment number 35.

    It seems most likely to me that Mr. Fernandes will win the case. I think that the ownership of the Team Lotus name was held continuously by the Hunt family from when it was bought from the administrators following the team's collapse until acquired by Mr. Fernandes. I see no reason for their rights to have lapsed. Furthermore, Team Lotus re-entered F1 prior to Group Lotus.

    While it does depend on Mr. Fernandes goals, it would seem to me there is obvious plan. Either way, he rebrands the F1 operation to 'Team Caterham' to connect with his new acquisition.

    Should he lose, then the choice is obvious. Should he win, he sells the 'Team Lotus' name to Group Lotus and/or Genii Capital who will be impelled to do so to be able to continue with their racing plans. After all, as Mr. Benson has observed, what is the merit is promoting a car manufacturer to which the team is not connected, and is indeed in an acrimonious relationship?

    It is obviously impossible to give the 'Team Lotus' name to Caterham Cars, as Group Lotus has been using that name without interruption, regardless of ownership. There's been enough fun for the courts already.

    Regardless of what happens, I'll be rooting for both teams. Ideally, given their connections (historical and mechanical, for both use Renault power) I'd like them to them to be in a more cooperative, albeit competitive, relationship.

  • Comment number 36.

    I think most of what I would have said has already been said in many of the above posts.
    There seems to be a strong liking for T.F and the phylosophy behind Team Lotus, which is indeed my view too.
    The dispute over the name is an awkward position for both concerns and I can't help feeling that, from a nostalgic - maybe even romantic, point of view that whoever made them, Caterham, Westfield, or whoever, they have always been Lotus 7's to me. In my heart I would love to Caterham to adopt the name Lotus in one guise or another although I know this is not at all likely.

  • Comment number 37.

    Well done tony youve saved another of our jewel in the crown of motoring heritage.Cateram may be a small car company but our car industry has shrunk to a size of small independants. The team lotus cateram future lives on, forget the nitty gritty of politics it can only get better and be good for the company and its employees, customer and fan base....Nice to see some reality in f1.

  • Comment number 38.

    Back in the old days of F1 - Lotus used to supply privateers with cars as well, so its not the 1st time more then one team has had "Lotus" cars. I hope Tony and Mike get to keep Team Lotus as a name.

    In my opinion Dany Bahar is a bit crazy - throwing away good will from Mike and Tony and also spending vast sums on expensive cars that are made out of other peoples parts bins - I just cant see being attractive to people spending that kind of money.

    I do love Lotus. Even my 1st poster as a child was that of Emmerson Fitapaldi driving a 72. My earliest F1 memories were of willing on the black and gold cars while Murry did the commentary. While i'll support both "Lotus" teams, Mike and Tony get my "spirit of F1" vote.

  • Comment number 39.

    On the whole it's good news in my opinion. I'm a big fan of Caterham and respect the way they've built the business sustainably with the Academy, new variants, and the Experience days while maintaining their core lightweight values.

    I do feel a little worried that TF will get too ambitious too quickly and move away from the core values of the brand, but I'm sure he won't... he's making the right noises at the moment anyway. A keen investment in R&D and new affordable models while maintaining / updating the current range (I believe there are currently problems with type approval in some countries which he's planning to remedy) will see the company in a good position. I was actually hoping that Caterham would buy the rights to the Mk 1 Elise / Exige... but I guess there's no chance of that now!!

    As for Team Lotus, as has been said, adopt the Caterham name and sell the Team Lotus name back to Group. Just ties things off nicely and we can all move on. Perhaps he can do a deal over the exchange of the Team Lotus name for the rights to the Mk1 Elise!... no idea of their relative values mind!

  • Comment number 40.

    #3.. 'seeing a Caterham on the road is far more special than seeing a Lotus.'

    Actually seeing a Lotus (7) on the roads is far mor special than seeing a Caterham, but maybe you're too young to remember what they're copies of!

  • Comment number 41.

    Are we going to see a DeLorean F1 team as well?

  • Comment number 42.

    Just for historical accuracy: neither Lotus Cars nor Team Lotus used to manufacture the Seven. That was Lotus Components.

  • Comment number 43.

    So who owns the rights to "Lotus Components" :S This could all get even messier!!!!!

  • Comment number 44.

    Here are our thoughts on this recent acquisition and why Caterham & Team Lotus will make a great team:


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