F1: Lotus opens its doors to the great and the good
By Andy Darley
Thursday, February 25th, 2010
While new Lotus drivers Heikki Kovalainen, Jarno Trulli and Fairuz Fauzy have been busy on the racetracks of Spain, developing the team’s F1 challenger, its Norfolk factories have been entertaining royalty, heads of state and supermodels.
In the last week the Formula One team in Hingham has played host to former Malaysian PM Tun Dr Mahathir, who formally opened it, and the Duke of York, while the sports car group in Hethel saw Naomi Campbell visit as part of a fundraising effort for earthquake-hit Haiti.
The former premier, who is known for having encouraged the growth of motorsport in Malaysia during his time in office, was given a tour of the F1 outfit and sat in one of the team’s race cars while its engine was fired up.
Team boss Tony Fernandes said: “It is very exciting for us and the team that Tun Dr. Mahathir has been able to come to Norfolk to officially open our factory. He is the father of motor racing in Malaysia, the visionary behind the birth of the Sepang International Circuit and the Malaysian Grand Prix, and has given us all the inspiration to reach for the skies and achieve our dreams.”
A day later the factory was visited by the Duke of York and Clive Chapman, son of the late Colin Chapman, the original founder of Lotus.
Prince Andrew has been heavily involved in building business links between Malaysia and the UK – especially Norfolk – and Fernandes said the foundation of the Lotus F1 team was in part down to his efforts.
He said: “Without HRH’s efforts Air Asia X’s partnership with Rolls Royce would not have become a reality. What is perhaps less well recognised is that the Duke was one of the primary catalysts behind our substantial capital investment here in Norfolk.
“Indeed it was thanks to the Duke’s advice in June of 2009 that we began another extraordinary partnership between Malaysia and the United Kingdom that has culminated in the successful entry and creation of the Lotus Racing T127 grand prix car.”
The Duke told local newspaper the Eastern Daily Press: “Mr Fernandes and I had a conversation in the summer of last year and a number of things transpired in the succeeding months.
“I would just like to pay tribute to what we’ve achieved in the last few months as the new Lotus team. I’ve followed and watched what’s been going on and I’ve been particularly pleased to see people from the UK pulling together in the endeavour.”
Meanwhile Campbell visited the Lotus Group sports car factory to thank workers involved in designing and building eight custom Lotus Evoras which are being auctioned to raise funds for her “Naomi for Haiti” charity, part of Fashion for Relief.
Three have already sold for up to £320,000 each and the remaining five are being auctioned online at the moment – top bid at time of writing is £150,000.
Campbell said: “I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has generously donated their time and effort to make Fashion for Relief happen. I’m thrilled with the support from Lotus and to have teamed up with my great friend Gino Rosato for this important cause. I hope we continue to raise awareness and as many funds as we can.’
Group chief executive Dany Bahar, a former Ferrari man, said: “I am so proud of the efforts the Lotus people have gone to to ensure Lotus can contribute to the Fashion for Relief charity and support those in need and distress. Naomi’s visit has had a great impact on the workforce who were thrilled to see such a high profile celebrity contribute her time to charity, just as they themselves have done.”
Both companies look likely to remain in Norfolk for the forseeable future, despite the Anglo-Malaysian nature of the F1 team and the trend towards consolidation of car marques.
While Fernandes hopes to eventually move the team to the F1 track in Sepang, he is on record saying the plans are on hold as the greater need at the moment is for stability.
And in November Bahar pledged to invest in the Hethel base. He told the EDP: “I see Lotus as one of three British sports car manufacturers and they have to remain British, although they may have foreign ownership. But it’s a British brand and it would be a mistake not to manufacture the car in Britain.
“I strongly believe motorsport to be a big help when you are selling and manufacturing sports cars. Why shouldn’t we replicate what worked in the past? If we’ve had a big play in the past in Le Mans, Indy Car and GT racing, we should go there again.”