Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lotus F1 racing for pride in maiden season: Fernandes

12 March 2010

Giving a final look back.... Leaving today (left to right) Darren Choy,Tony Fernandes, Datuk Kamarudin Meranum( Deputy Team Principal) and Razlan Razali(CEO Sepang F1 circuit) for the season's first race in the middle east. - Picture by Choo Choy May

SEPANG— Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes said today the Lotus F1 team will be racing for pride in Bahrain this weekend.

The team principal’s goals for Lotus F1 are two-fold: beat Virgin and stir Malaysian pride.

“We just want to beat Virgin,” an ebullient Fernandes, who is also group chief operating office of AirAsia, told reporters gathered at the departure hall of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, referring to the bet between him and rival British aviation mogul Richard Branson who controls Virgin Airlines.

Fernandes was leaving for the first race of the 2010 F1 season in Bahrain.

The stakes? The loser will have to don a stewardess uniform and work a flight on the winner’s airline.

“My cabin crew have already collected money for stockings for Richard,” he said. “But not fishnets, we’re conservative.”

He acknowledged, however, that it will not be easy.

Lotus F1 will be starting at the back of the grid and was about four seconds off pace during winter testing.

Due to the tight timeline, the car had to be built “conservatively” and is heavier than it should ideally be, although a new “aero package” to lighten the car is in the works.

“We just want to finish,” he said of the season-opener in Bahrain. “Anything else is a bonus. But it’s important to remember that we’re on the grid. No other Asian country, well... besides Japan, has put a car on the grid. This is the way to do it — start small and slowly build.”

He added that he can’t wait for the homecoming race at the Sepang F1 circuit and hopes for the day when Lotus F1 can work its way to the pole position.

“We hope Malaysians will come and support us,” he said. “For the first time, you can put on a Malaysian jersey rather than a foreign brand.”

Our man to Manama, Fernandes gives the all OK to as heads to his flight at the KLIA. - Picture by Choo Choy May

He also took a shot at Singapore.

“Wouldn’t it be great if Negaraku is played in Singapore at their Night Race?”

The Lotus F1 team, backed by Fernandes and other Malaysian businessmen, had come under early criticism due to concerns that it would require government sponsorship.

A hoped-for-deal with national oil company Petronas also fell through when it opted to go with Mercedes GP instead.

But this has not dampened the spirit of Fernandes who could not stop beaming at the airport.

“There were some sceptics but we now see more belief from the media,” he said. “I feel the country is behind us.”

The media buzz surrounding his wager with Branson has also helped lift the profile of AirAsia and he expects to announce a few more sponsorship deals in the coming weeks.

In earlier press conferences, he also said that he hopes to cash in on merchandise sales pointing out that some F1 teams sell hundreds of millions T-shirts alone. The first Lotus F1 merchandise will be arriving in Malaysia in about two weeks.

As they didn’t have time to build a show car, the actual machine will be on display, likely at the Pavilion shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur during the Sepang leg of the season.

“We had six months to build a car with 8,500 parts and put a team together,” he said. “I have to say this is something else — having qualified to race with McLaren and Ferrari is fantastic.”

The Malaysia Insider

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