29 December, 2009

What ? 1Malaysia racing team ?

Lotus F1 team chief executive Riad Asmat says he is disappointed with the decision by national oil company Petronas to sponsor the Mercedes Formula One team instead of the Malaysian-backed team.

Riad said Lotus F1 had hoped to ensure an all-round Malaysian involvement in the team, but now had little choice but to look for foreign sponsorship.

“As a Malaysian, it is disappointing. However, I understand their business decision regarding this matter,” Riad told The Malaysian Insider yesterday.

He asserted that the team had gone through proper procedures and had submitted a proposal to Petronas, but it was “unfortunate” sponsorship was not secured from the national oil company.

“Lotus F1 Racing is a legitimate team. We have a responsibility as a team to compete in the opening race at Bahrain in March 2010 and we will move on.

“Sponsors come and go. Everyone makes their own decision,” said Riad, who took great pains to explain that the “minor setback” would not affect the team in the long run.

It is understood that Petronas’ decision was not made without sanction from the administration of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

According to industry sources familiar with the deal, Petronas chief executive Tan Sri Hassan Merican had made a strong argument for backing the Mercedes team to the government.

Petronas had considered the relative value to the company’s future plans and decided Mercedes would fit into its plans better than Lotus.

Petronas is hoping that through its collaboration with Mercedes Formula One, it will be able generate business growth in the lubricants market.

Hassan and the Petronas management are understood to have argued that while the Lotus brand had huge historical significance, it did not sell many cars compared to Mercedes.

While the Lotus F1 chief executive attempted to put on a diplomatic front over the Petronas decision, other sources in the team contacted by The Malaysian Insider were quite critical about the Mercedes deal.

A source familiar with the Malaysian team’s operations claimed that Hassan had not considered national interests and had made the decision on his own.

The source also claimed Petronas never sat down with Lotus F1 to negotiate a deal.

“Lotus could have given them so many deals, with Aston Martin, Jaguar and Cadillac for example, plus more benefits, but [they] never came back to us,” he said, making reference to some of the Lotus’s clients.

“What is Mercedes offering them? Mobil is the global supplier for Mercedes, so Mercedes engines work better with Mobil oil, not Petronas. Was there due process in making this call? Or was it one man’s decision?”

Speaking to The Malaysian Insider , the Lotus F1 CEO Riad said the team was now looking for overseas sponsors for the team.

He said it would not be a difficult task to undertake as international sponsors have more “experience.”

“It would be less of a challenge as foreign sponsors have had more experience in the field. You will definitely face challenges along the way, but it is part and parcel of the game.”

The Petronas decision has piled the pressure on Lotus F1 boss Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes, who also controls AirAsia, to bring in the funds needed for his team.

Fernandes had hoped to bring Petronas on board given that his team has government support and his airline is a major purchaser of aviation fuel. The Lotus car company is also owned by government-linked Proton.

Lotus F1 was understood to have been seeking US$85 million (RM297 million) in funds from Petronas.

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