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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

> Tony Fernandes takes 1 Malaysia into Formula One

Formula One’s governing body today named Lotus as the 13th team for the 2010 championship. The new outfit will be led by Tony Fernandes of Malaysia, it was announced here.

In Kuala Lumpur, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak also confirmed the news and said the team will be known as the 1 Malaysia Formula One team, although Reuters quotes the FIA as calling the new outfit the Lotus F1 team.

According to Reuters, the new team is a partnership between the Malaysian government and a consortium of Malaysian entrepreneurs.

The FIA said the team principal will be leading Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes. The 45-year-old set up Asian budget airline Air Asia and, with a net worth of US$220 million (RM770.57 million), is Malaysia’s 15th richest man, according to Forbes Malaysia 2009 rich list.

Investors in the new team are Air Asia co-founders Datuk Kamarudin Meranun and Fernandes as well as SM Nasarudin SM Nasimuddin of Naza.

Technical director Mike Gascoyne has more than 20 years of experience in Formula One having previously performed the same role for the Force India, Toyota, Renault and Jordan Formula One teams.

As part of its application to compete in the 2010 championship, the Lotus team agreed an engine supply deal with Cosworth.

The team will initially be based in Norfolk, some 10 miles from the Lotus Cars factory in Eastern England.

The team’s future design, manufacturing and technical centre will be purpose built at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit, the FIA statement said.

1Malaysia is Najib’s platform for uniting Malaysians irrespective of ethnicity and creating a performance based culture.

The concept has gotten mixed reviews as some have praised its objectives while others have criticised its vagueness, which Najib says is deliberate.

The Malaysian government has gone on overdrive to promote 1Malaysia via billboards and song competitions.

Najib declined to disclose the amount that the public-private initiative will cost.

He added however that the government’s investment will be via proton.

Lotus, one of the most successful and glorious names from Formula One’s past, will return next year replacing BMW-Sauber as the 13th entry on the starting grid.

The governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) said in a statement that, after due diligence and an intensive selection process, it had chosen Lotus.

“The cars will be made in Malaysia, by Malaysians,” the Malaysian government said in a separate statement.

The vacancy arose after BMW announced that they were withdrawing at the end of the season, following a path already trodden by Japan’s Honda.

The FIA said BMW-Sauber, who are still seeking a buyer, had been given a reserve slot to fill any vacancy that might occur between now and the start of the 2010 championship.

“The team will announce its two drivers by October 31, 2009. Currently six local and international drivers have been selected,” the Malaysian government said.

Three teams had been on the FIA shortlist for the 13th slot: Lotus, a BMW-Sauber entry to be renamed under eventual new ownership and Spain’s Epsilon Euskadi.

The original Lotus won seven Formula One constructors’ titles and six drivers’ crowns between 1963 and 1978 under the inspirational leadership of the late Colin Chapman, one of the most innovative engineers in the sport.

Chapman died of a heart attack in 1982 and the company slid into administration in 1994 after giving the late Brazilian Ayrton Senna his first victory in 1985.

British great Jim Clark spent his entire F1 career with Lotus, winning two titles. The team’s other champions include compatriot Graham Hill, Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi and American Mario Andretti.

In 1970 the team’s Austrian driver Jochen Rindt became the sport’s only posthumous champion.

The right to the Lotus F1 name was acquired by David Hunt, brother of the 1976 champion James, while the British-based car company was bought by Malaysian state-owned Proton - The Malaysian Insider.