New Lotus boss plans to step down soon
Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian aviation entrepreneur Tony Fernandes plans to step down as head of the new Lotus Formula One team once the 2010 season has started.
"The team principal (position) is not something that is going to be permanent," he told reporters. "I am going to get it (the team) to a stage and then someone can do it full time, properly.”
"My job is AirAsia and I just want to make sure that we (Lotus) have the right direction, the right imaging and the right future, the right strategic plan and marketing," he added.
"I think up to about Melbourne, maybe," he said when asked about the time frame. "Maybe I`ll enjoy being the team principal for a couple of races and I think then we`d move it on to someone else."
Fernandes, the country`s 15th richest man according to Forbes Malaysia`s 2009 rich list, runs Asia`s largest budget airline by fleet size.
He was announced as the boss of Formula One`s newest team when Lotus F1 was granted the 13th slot.
The new team, to be based ultimately at Malaysia`s Sepang circuit, will be a partnership between the Malaysian government and a consortium of local entrepreneurs.
Fernandes said replacements were already being considered and his successor would likely not be a Malaysian.
"I would say probably we would buy in experience," he added. "I think it would be good that the team principal is Malaysian but it might be a tall order to be a team principal straight away."
The Malaysian government said on Tuesday the team`s two drivers would be announced at the end of October, with six local and international drivers in the frame so far.
Fernandes said Fairuz Fauzy, 26, who is currently racing in the World Series by Renault, would be a leading home-grown candidate.
"My personal preference would be to try to get someone with lots of experience, even though he may be ending his career, who can add a lot of experience and develop the car," he added.
"Having the right personality that can transfer knowledge and enjoy working with people, I think is critical... there`s no point throwing someone in at the deep end if he`s not ready either."
AirAsia are currently sponsors of Williams and Fernandes said that would continue next year.
Malaysia`s state oil company Petronas has been a long-time backer of BMW-Sauber, whose place has been taken by Lotus, but that association could end.
"We are certainly campaigning for Petronas to come over to us," said Fernandes. "We think it is logical as a Malaysian team that they should be somehow involved in it. But we`ll have to make our case."
Fernandes said he expected a car to be ready by January to start testing in February.
He added he had been contacted by more than 1,000 Malaysians seeking a role within the team and saw it as an important step for the country.
The recent success of Force India, who have had two top four finishes in the last two races, had also been a boost.
"(Owner) Vijay (Mallya) going through all the criticism to be up there and ahead of McLaren shut up a lot of people," said Fernandes. "It certainly helps my case in saying: `He did it, we can do it`."
Having a team based at Sepang, rather than Europe, would not be a problem either, he added.
"At the end of the day it`s a wind tunnel, it`s computers, it`s a shed. It can be anywhere. It`s about who`s in the shed and the wind tunnel," said Fernandes.
"I think we can attract the best talent from all over the world to come and live in Malaysia."
The heritage and tradition of British-based Lotus, one of the great names from the sport`s past but with the car marque now owned by Malaysia`s Proton, would be respected however.
"(The late Lotus founder) Colin Chapman had a fantastic pedigree and we want to enhance it, protect what`s there and add value to it. Very much we see ourselves as the original Lotus and carrying on the processes," he said.