Lotus heads are on the block – Fernandes

Monza (Italy): Heads will roll if Team Lotus fail to take a big step up the Formula One grid next season, owner Tony Fernandes warned on Saturday.

In an interview at the Italian Grand Prix, the Malaysian aviation entrepreneur also said the team would move to a new Silverstone base and hinted they could start 2012 under a different name.

Fernandes added that Finland`s Heikki Kovalainen and Italian Jarno Trulli were likely to stay on in an unchanged driver line-up.

"Next year is the year where we have to make an impact. If we haven`t then I am going to give up," he said after qualifying at Monza.

Asked whether he really meant that, the AirAsia boss made clear he would not walk away but would have to consider a major shake-up.

"When I say walk away, what I`m saying is we have got to make changes," Fernandes said.

"I think if we don`t make an improvement next year, if we are still 10th next year, then someone`s not doing something right and ultimately I am the leader of this."

When it was pointed out he did not design the cars or run the technical department which is under the guidance of Mike Gascoyne, Fernandes agreed.

"Mike would be the first to say if he doesn`t produce a car that`s in the middle of the pack next year, having been given all the tools ... I honestly think he`s done a fantastic job to get us to where we are but next year is the year where everyone`s head is on the block."

Team Lotus made their debut last season as Lotus Racing and finished 10th, the best of the three newcomers but without a point.

They are again 10th this year after 12 of 19 races, still without a point and some way behind those ahead of them in the standings despite now competing seriously on the track with the likes of Williams.

The team have also been embroiled in legal action over the rights to the Lotus name.

Renault are sponsored by Malaysian-owned Group Lotus, who have the rights to the marque on its own and in the automotive sector where they sell sportscars.

Team Lotus, who are also powered by Renault engines, have the rights to use the famous brand name in Formula One.

"I always had a problem with `Am I really Team Lotus?` because there`s a big question mark on that," conceded Fernandes.

"You can`t have a name and not monetise it. So we will have to wait and see ... I don`t think this is healthy for anyone, having Lotus Renault and Team Lotus.

"I`ve always had the door open and there could be a win-win for everybody."

Fernandes recently bought Caterham, a niche sportscar maker whose brand has now been brought into Formula One as a team sponsor. There is also a Caterham Team AirAsia in the GP2 support series.

Team Lotus are based at Hingham in eastern England, far from the other British-based teams who are mostly clustered in the centre within easy reach of the British Grand Prix circuit at Silverstone.

That has made it harder to recruit top staff reluctant to uproot their families.

Silverstone is eager to attract motorsport businesses to its hi-tech development and Fernandes said his team would definitely be on the move.

"The perfect scenario would be for the cars to leave for Australia (the opening race in March 2012) and come back to a new home," he said.

"There`s no two ways about it. But Hingham will always be there because we`ve got composites, we will be developing a technology and engineering division."

On the drivers, Fernandes saw no reason for change.

"I want to see them in a proper car. Next season we will give them a proper car," he said.

"I asked Mike and everyone on the pitwall today `ok guys, this time next year where are we going to be in qualifying? Put your money where your mouth is.

"The consensus was 14th, 15th with one saying maybe ninth. I think the reality is 14th/15th which would be a good step up."

Trulli will be 19th on the grid in Sunday`s race and Kovalainen 20th.

Bureau Report

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