Exclusive Q&A with Group Lotuss Dany Bahar 09 Dec 2011
After a so-so season in which circumstance rather than strategy all too often dictated their course, Renault are looking forward to a new beginning in 2012, when the team officially becomes Lotus, and former world champion Kimi Raikkonen joins their ranks. Its all good news for Group Lotus CEO Dany Bahar, as he looks to maximise the return on his F1 investment. After all, who better than a flying Finn in black and gold to sell his high-performance Lotus road cars?
Q: Dany, the signing of Kimi Raikkonen came as quite a surprise, as for so long it had seemed he was something of a non-topic for the team. How do you feel about it?
Dany Bahar: We're delighted. Perhaps externally it might have been a non-topic but we always had in mind that Kimi is a gifted and proven driver. There's no doubting his talent, so I think it's a great step for the team and he'll be a real asset next season. It will be interesting to see how he works with the team and the development of the car.
Q: Lotus is a high-end car manufacturer whos been teaming up with some well-known names for strategic marketing purposes. The Formula One team is another marketing tool, so for you it would have been difficult to accept two no-name drivers for 2012. How well does Kimi now fit into your strategy?
DB: Kimi will be a great ambassador for our brand. His fighting spirit and pure competitive nature make him a good match. Now we just have to hope that his performance matches the capabilities of the car.
Q: What do you expect from him on and off track? You must know him from your time at Ferrari
DB: As with anyone we work with on and off track, we expect him to do his best. I fully expect that he will take his commitment to the team very seriously and will do everything he can to bring in points. From what I know of Kimi from previous experience, he is a dedicated and determined driver and he wants results. He hasn't taken the decision to return to F1 lightly - he wants to fight to be at front.
Q: 2011 was not exactly a great season for Renault. How much pressure are you putting on them to get their act together?
DB: First of all, the way I see it is that there's no need for us to add pressure - the team put themselves under enough pressure to perform. They know exactly what they have to do, and their expectations are sometimes even higher than ours. For sure the season could have been better for LRGP, but it wasn't all bad. There were some highlights, some strong performances and some valuable lessons learned. We have faith in our partners and the way that the team is being run. When we made the announcement about the partnership last year, I was very clear about the fact that we wouldn't be interfering with the running of the team and I stand by that. I think next year we will see a stronger, more consistent performance from the team. We have a very close working relationship with the team. Gerard (Lopez) and I have had a mutual working respect for each other for many years and the partnership with Lotus Renault GP (LRGP) is something we planned together and discussed for a long time. When we made the announcement that Group Lotus and Genii were uniting last year with LRGP we were clear about it being the beginning of a lasting and carefully thought-out strategic partnership. We have very similar goals and a clear road map for our plans together. So far everything has gone more or less as expected and I'm looking forward to even more of the jigsaw pieces falling into place in the very near future.
Q: and even more so now that the name change to Lotus means a more obvious link to the road cars?
DB: To reiterate, we're not the ones piling the pressure on the team, regardless of the branding. Like any competitive organization, the team puts pressure on themselves to achieve the best they can, otherwise they would be in the wrong job.
Q: The dispute over the use of the Lotus name in Formula One is finally settled. How much was that conflict affecting the car business?
DB: The conflict didn't really interfere with the car business at all, but I do understand and respect that it created a great deal of confusion within the sport so I'm very happy that this is behind us now.
Q: The team will now run under the Lotus brand. You are CEO of that brand and no doubt want to protect it. So has your influence, shall we say, expanded?
DB: Other than my usual duties and influence as a director of the board, no. I still believe in letting the experts do their job - there are far better qualified people than me to run an F1 team! Besides, I have more than enough to do with my day job.
Q: 2011 is history and 2012 will be a new beginning of sorts. What schedule do you have in mind for the team to deliver - and to form a synergy with Lotus the car manufacturer?
DB: Now we're one unified brand it's only natural that we plan to make the most of this activity on a variety of levels. Like all our other partnerships, this one needs to work hard to ensure the best possible return on investment for everyone involved.
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