The subject of precisely what control the Lotus car company has over the Renault Formula One team is something which has been discussed for some time. The catalyst for the discussion was Lotus signing a sponsorship deal with the team in December estimated to be worth £25m annually.
Following this, as Pitpass has reported, Lotus' chief executive, Dany Bahar, and Syed Zainal Abidin Tahir, the managing director of its owner, the Malaysian car manufacturer Proton, were appointed to the board of the team despite not owning any shares in it. An article in the Observer newspaper by Pitpass' editor Christian Sylt reveals why this may have happened.
According to Sylt's article Lotus has an option to acquire a 50% stake in the team and presumably the car manufacturer is waiting for Team Lotus to change its name to Caterham before it takes this up.
Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf recently reported that Aston Martin chairman David Richards is planning a take over of the team with the support of billionaire Marcel Boekhoorn, whose son-in-law is GP2 race-winner Giedo van der Garde. However, in fact, Sylt says that Richards' previous meeting with Boekhoorn was a couple of years ago and the two have not had any direct contact since then.
Other rumours indicate that a group of Brazilians connected to Gerard Lopez, chairman of the team's owner the private equity firm Genii Capital, is also looking at a takeover presumably enticed by Bruno Senna driving for it. With Senna finishing ninth in yesterday's Italian Grand Prix it is easy to see why interest is accelerating. Away from the track things have been very different.
In the year to 31 December 2010 the team burnt up a £34.3m net loss, down from a £4.8m after-tax profit. The drop was driven by an exodus of sponsors after the team was charged in September 2009 with rigging the result of the Singapore Grand Prix. The team's revenue in 2010 was down 49% to £82.2m with the loss of its title partner, Dutch bank ING, alone accounting for an estimated £41m. That is not all it lost.
The team's world champion driver, Fernando Alonso, defected to Ferrari last year and Renault also pulled out. Genii bought a 75% stake in the team from Renault in December 2009 and then acquired the remaining 25% one year later.
Alonso was paid an estimated £12.5m annually according to F1's industry guide Formula Money and the driver's departure is believed to have been the driving force behind the team's costs falling 18% to £122.2m. Total staff costs fell by £1.5m although staff numbers increased by 17 to 514. It makes you wonder what is the point in the resource restriction agreement which binds the teams.
Alonso was replaced by Robert Kubica who steered the team to fifth in the standings last year, up from eighth in 2009. However, Kubica has not raced this year after his rally accident before the start of the season and his future, like that of the team, is unclear.
The accounts show that £41m of creditors have to be paid by the end of 2011 including £21.3m of loans. Renault itself is owed £6m this year, another £6m next year and £8m by the end of 2013. Lithuanian bank AB Snoras is also due £15.3m by the end of 2011 and its loan is secured on the team's assets so it would get control of the outfit if it fails to pay.
The accounts state that the team is a going concern "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." However, it remains to be seen just who those owners will be.