Lotus won the first GP of the season...or did they? When is a Lotus not a Lotus?
That’s a real hard question to answer these days. Lotus is many things from what I can see and none of it is inspiring to me. Okay, let’s start with Lotus F1. At the Monaco Grand Prix, Lotus F1 celebrated 500 GPs, but they weren’t celebrating the history of Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Mario Andretti. That’s because Lotus F1 is a rebranding of Renault F1, which was formerly Benetton, which was originally Toleman. So they were celebrating that history. Which must have been a very odd celebration as this Lotus incarnation is only half a dozen races old.
“Hey, hold on a second,” I hear you say, “but Lotus has been back for a couple of years.”
Actually, no. That was Lotus Racing. Tony Fernandez had the licensing rights to use the Lotus name, which he has now lost and the team is now called Caterham F1. You see Lotus F1 is owned by Genii Capital which is a branding partner (not sure what that means) of Group Lotus. And Group Lotus is a 2-part company that makes the sports cars and does special projects for the auto giants. I hope that’s clear now. If it isn’t, you're not alone.
So what about the Lotus engines that are currently underperforming in IndyCar? If you thought that might be connected to the F1 outfit, you’d be wrong. That’s something put out by Lotus Engineering arm of Group Lotus in cooperation with John Judd engine development outfit. Williams F1 fans will be groaning as they remember that temperamental engine of the late 80’s.
So what's all this mean? The Lotus “brand” seems very confused nowadays. It’s everywhere and nowhere. I truly admire the ambition but not the execution. They seem to want to emulate Colin Chapman’s legacy of being a Jack of all trade and master of all, but they don’t have the cash or someone like Chapman running the circus. They're just stretching themselves too thin. Personally, I don’t understand the decision to go into IndyCar without a major carmaker bankrolling them. Their F1 aspirations have roots in another racecar team which don’t use a Lotus engine. It all seems muddled and messy. I’m not sure if I’ve got all my facts straight as it was very hard to nail things down.
The upshot is that all these ambitions can only hurt Lotus’ image. While Lotus has never been the perfect company throughout its history, I fear that it’ll tarnish which is a car company that has turned out some awesome cars over the years and changed Grand Prix racing, and all this has the potential to hurt the sales of their road cars if all these various brands can’t pull it together.
I love the idea of a Lotus’ resurrection in motorsport, but Lotus in its racing form died when the F1 team stopped in ’94. However, I do hoped to be proved wrong.
A quick author’s note, this is an opinion piece and represent my thoughts and feelings and shouldn’t be taken as fact.