Lotus make evocative return to F1

Team Lotus, once famous in the heyday of founder Colin Chapman for making world champions of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti, are set to return after the FIA yesterday awarded them the 13th entry in next year's Formula One championship.

The team, moribund since 1994, will be backed a company called Malaysia F1 Team, with Tony Fernandes, the founder and chief executive of the Malaysian-based Tune Group which owns Air Asia, as team principal and Mike Gascoyne as technical director. They will use Cosworth engines.

In partnership with the Malaysian government and a consortium of Malaysian entrepreneurs, Lotus will initially be based in Norfolk, but aim to establish a technical centre at Malaysia's Sepang circuit.

This was bittersweet news for the BMW Sauber team, whose F1 future is in doubt because the German manufacturers are pulling out at the end of the year. The FIA acknowledged their "impressive" new application for an entry but "given the uncertainty about the ownership of the squad" decided to opt for Lotus, while giving BMW Sauber the "14th place" in case any vacancy arises on the 2010 grid. The FIA said they would consult urgently with the existing teams "regarding the introduction of an appropriate rule change to expand the grid to 28 cars in time for the first Grand Prix in 2010."

Just too late, BMW yesterday announced that Qadbak Investments Ltd, a Swiss-based foundation "which represents the interests of certain Middle East and European based families," have signed a contract to purchase the team.

"We are pleased to confirm that the FIA have indicated that we may have a place in the 2010 Formula One World Championship," a BMW statement said. "The team expect to line up on the grid for the first race of the 2010 season."

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