Right, then. You could all probably imagine I was going to comment on this at some point. So. Here is a picture of a potential 2011 livery (although, as I’ll explain, I don’t believe it’s actually going to run next year) for the Team Formerly Known As Renault:
First off, let’s talk about the livery itself. Well, for the most part, it’s quite smart – we all know just how good black and gold look as an F1 livery, and with the new Pirelli tyres in particular, it looks immediately classic. It’s ruined, of course, by the red wing endplates – and including the Union Flag on the sidepod purely in an attempt to reference the JPS livery even further is tacky and pointless in the extreme. Nevertheless, it’s got a lot of people on the internet very excited, and it is rather pretty.
But. It’s not a Lotus. What it is is an appallingly childish and petty piece of work. The team that are running this car are not Lotus, will never be Lotus, and have absolutely no right to evoke the history of that livery. For those unfamiliar with the whole tangled mess, I suggest reading this interview with David Hunt on Joe Saward’s excellent F1 blog, but the long and short of it is this – Team Lotus and Group Lotus (aka Lotus Cars) are, and always have been (at least since 1954), different things. Team Lotus ran an F1 team until 1994 (although just to add further confusion, for a brief time the Lotus Cars name and logo appeared on the Team Lotus F1 car due to a sponsorship deal), and the rights to race in F1 in that name have been held by David Hunt ever since. Group Lotus make cars, and are now owned by Proton, and leased the “Lotus” name to Tony Fernandes’ F1 team for 2010 – an act they got away with because there wasn’t another team in the sport licensing the Team Lotus name.
For 2011, Proton are trying to pull the same trick – having bought the Renault team, they’re now sponsoring it and thus referring to it as a “Lotus Renault” (it’s worth noting that the constructor name, as far as the entry list goes, is still officially Renault – the “Lotus” part is equivalent to the “Vodafone” in McLaren’s name, and this is how I suspect they’ll attempt to defend their actions should the FIA try to crack down on the whole fiasco). But now they’ve come up with this livery – a livery that harkens back to a team that this company had nothing to do with (besides sharing a name) – and, furthermore, a colour scheme that Fernandes’ Team Lotus (a name that they’ve now officially licensed from David Hunt, essentially becoming the inheritors of the old team’s history in the process) had already announced that they were going to run in.
It stinks, frankly. Proton/Group Lotus are trying to convince the public that they are the “real” Lotus team, and are using this colour scheme to try and back that up. But it’s stolen – it doesn’t belong to them. A smart car it may be, but it is not a Lotus – and like most Renault liveries over the past decade, it ends up looking like some weird half-breed of two things.
What’s particularly baffling is why the Renault team have agreed to go along with all of this – they’d spent 2010 carefully (and largely successfully) rebuilding their reputation thanks to the brilliant hiring of Robert Kubica and a concerted effort to disassociate themselves with the Briatore era. So why would they risk yet another PR disaster that’s just going to make the rest of motorsport annoyed with them? Anyone who knows their stuff knows that they’re essentially hijacking the legacy of the great Colin Chapman in order to score points off a team that managed to make themselves the most well-liked and well-respected of 2010’s rookie teams (although all three, even Hispania, gave pretty strong accounts of themselves, and confounded the doubters by going on to finish the season and make firm plans for 2011).
And for a livery fan, it’s particularly annoying – Renault had arguably the second-best livery on the grid last year, and now they’re ditching that brilliant piece of image reinvention for the sake of this cheap points-scoring. If we really do have four cars in near-identical liveries next year (and both called “Lotus Renault”, to boot), it’s just ridiculous – and I can only hope the FIA step in to do something about it (otherwise it sets a dangerous precedent – I wonder what would stop a team being “sponsored” by a newly-started company that happens to be called “Ferrari” or “McLaren”). Indeed, I suspect what’s probably going to happen is that Proton will eventually be forced to back down, and the team will run as “Proton Renault” (and hey, if they want a classic Lotus-style car, they could do a lot worse than running in Proton’s colours of yellow and blue). Then again, if they don’t, perhaps it will cause the Real Lotus to rethink their strategy of moving away from the wonderful 2010 livery. Every cloud…