Dany Bahar Q&A: Lotus out to win, not just participate 10 Dec 2010
For many years Group Lotus CEO Dany Bahar has occupied a position on the outskirts of the Formula One paddock, first as right-hand man to Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz and then as Ferraris marketing chief. The news that Group Lotus will become the Renault team's new title sponsor and co-owner will see Bahar move centre stage. We talked to him exclusively...
Q: Dany, it has been rumoured for a long time but has now been confirmed that Renault and Group Lotus will form a Formula One partnership to be called Lotus Renault GP. Can you explain why you decided to take the plunge?
Dany Bahar: The relationship started from a completely different, wider angle, more on the road-car side of the business. Renault and our shareholder Proton and Lotus began talks about future projects exploring synergies and efficiencies in automotive technologies for road cars. The Formula One side cropped up just a few months ago. This then quickly turned out to be a very interesting concept for all parties involved. The new Lotus Renault GP team is the result of our recent discussions, but the bigger picture of the road car business is the underlying objective of our united cooperation.
Q: You said that Group Lotus believes motorsport in general and F1 in particular is the best platform for brand communication. When you got involved with Group Lotus was it always part of your plan to bring the car manufacturer back to the grid?
DB: A clear yes. I cant think of a better way to demonstrate the technology transfer between motorsport and our road cars. For me there is no better communications platform than motorsport and we believe that F1 is the perfect place to communicate our brand. With the unveiling of our new range at the Paris and LA motor shows we showed the world the future of Lotus. It was a bold step and now we use motorsport to remind people in as many ways as possible what they can expect when they get behind the wheel of one of our cars. Motor racing in general is very important for Lotus and the pinnacle of racing is F1 - and if, as a sports car manufacturer, you have the chance to be involved in Formula One, then its too good an opportunity to pass up.
Q: Your main partner in this scheme will be Genii Capital. What are the parameters of the partnership? What are the percentages and duties of each partner?
DB: The numbers arent really the most significant element for me, its the objective behind the relationship that matters. Its about a partnership between two groups with mutual interests exploring further business opportunities outside Formula One. So whether it is a 40, 50 or 60 percent is something that does not really matter. What matters is that it is a real partnership with clearly defined roles and responsibilities and I think we are actually in a very good position with a very good partner to embark on future race seasons.
Q: When did negotiations start?
DB: Discussions with Renault have been going on for a while, but as I mentioned previously negotiations werent initially about Formula One. F1 and Genii came into the picture a few months ago - from there everything unfolded very quickly.
Q: A sports car manufacturer looking for a motorsport platform is logical, but what is in it for Proton, the majority stakeholder in Group Lotus? Proton is a Malaysian car manufacturer producing mainly for a national market .
DB: Proton, together with Lotus and Genii, enjoys a close partnership with Renault. In the future we aim to expand this relationship further into other mutually beneficial areas.
Q: How do you plan to cooperate with Renault - in Formula one racing and in the automotive sector?
DB: In Formula One, Renault has clearly stated that Lotus Renault GP will be their preferred team when it comes to providing their technological capabilities such as the supply of engines, KERS systems and gearboxes. As the team also carries the Renault name it obviously will always be a very close and special relationship. Outside Formula One there are very interesting opportunities for all the companies involved, including Proton.
Q: Theres been a lot of trouble identifying who has the right to use the Lotus name. What are the core issues of that dispute?
DB: The driving force in managing this process is our shareholders Proton and they are working to solve the problem. We are pretty sure there will be an amicable solution.
Q: What were the fundamental issues that prevented the two Lotus teams from merging?
DB: At this point I would like to show respect to all of the new teams who have had the courage to build a team from scratch, but I strongly believe that our company does not have the financial resources, the capacity but also the time to build a team from scratch. We believe that the Lotus name belongs at the front of the Formula One grid. In its history, the Lotus name was synonymous with success and engineering excellence. Although the team in Hingham have done a creditable job as the most successful start-up team in F1, they are still years away from delivering results in line with the history and heritage of the Lotus name. Lotus Renault GP are capable of doing this from 2011, and will put the Lotus name back where it deserves to be, among the front-running teams in Formula One. We have a clear plan in mind. We are joining Formula One because we believe that our brand has the right to be advertised in any sports activity around the world. But its not just about branding, the Lotus approach is full immersion, we have to be completely involved. For us going into motor racing is about competing and winning, not just about participating.
Q: Renault have been over delivering in the 2010 season, so the team structure and chemistry works. Will that remain the same? Will Eric Boullier stay on as team principal?
DB: Given their performance this year, the structure really works so we have no plans whatsoever to change this. The Renault F1 Team have done exceptionally well with the resources they have and thats why we are very confident - and happy - to have partnered with them.
Q: In terms of drivers, Robert Kubica is confirmed but there has been a guessing game about the second seat. Is Vitaly Petrov to be retained?
DB: Robert is confirmed, that was always clear and the team has expressed several times that Vitaly is the preferred driver for the second seat in 2011. The team hopes to make an announcement of the final driver line-up before the end of this year.
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