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It is somewhat of an understatement to say that the Lotus brand has been dragged through the mud recently. On Thursday the car manufacturer's chief executive Dany Bahar was fired and its Malaysian owner DRB-Hicom is currently contemplating whether to sell the business or close its doors after it racked up huge losses. The Lotus F1 team has completely different ownership to the Group Lotus car company but its financial performance seems to be stuck in the same reverse gear.
An article in today's Mail on Sunday, by Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt, reveals that support from the team's owner, Luxembourg-based private equity firm Genii Capital, is crucial to it remaining a going concern.
The news comes from the team's accounts for the year-ending 31 December 2011 which show that it racked up a £20.9m net loss despite revenue increasing 41% to £115.7m. It finished the year with net liabilities of £14.3m, down from net assets of £6.6m in 2010, and the accounts state that they "have been prepared on the going concern basis as it is anticipated that the owners will continue to support the operation of the company as a Formula 1 team for the foreseeable future."
Group Lotus came on board as title partner of the team at the start of last season fuelling the £33.5m boost in its revenue. Another major factor was an influx of Russian and Brazilian sponsors, including Lada and Brazilian telecoms giant Embratel, which signed up as they were keen to support the team's local drivers, Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna. This helped reduce the £34.3m net loss that it made in 2010 but as costs increased £12.1m to £134.4m last year the team was still a long way from breaking even.
The losses mark another twist in the road for the team, which won the championship as recently as 2006 when it was owned by Renault. It sold the team to Genii in 2009 following claims that its team principal Flavio Briatore rigged the result of the Singapore Grand Prix the previous year. The scandal drove sponsors away and the team has not recovered its championship winning ways since. To give it a boost Group Lotus' immediate parent, the Malaysian car manufacturer Proton, gave the team a £10m loan which drove its total debt to £42.3m at the end of 2011, with £27.3m due within a year.
In February this year, Proton increased its loan to £30m, secured on the key assets of the team, allowing it to pay off £16.4m of short-term debt. A month later, Genii chairman Gerard Lopez confirmed that sponsorship obligations from Group Lotus had been discontinued.
The car manufacturer's involvement in F1 was spearheaded by Bahar, who had extensive experience in the sport through marketing roles at Red Bull and Ferrari. Pitpass revealed early last year that he had joined the board of the F1 team and ironically he is still on it. His dismissal from Group Lotus casts a shadow over the F1 project which was already in doubt after the car company made a pre-tax loss of £21.4m last year leading to reports that DRB-Hicom is open to selling it.
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