NORFOLK (England): Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad wants the Lotus F1 Racing team to achieve success by living up to the brand’s legendary name.
The former prime minister said the Malaysian-backed team had a mission since taking the Lotus name and reputation so “they jolly well deliver on that.”
“As Lotus is a very famous name and if they fail, that is not going to be good for them,” he told newsmen after opening the Lotus Racing factory in Hingham, eastern England, on Monday.
Dr Mahathir, who is Proton adviser, was later assisted in firing up the engine of the Lotus F1 racing car – the Cosworth T127 – while seated behind the wheel.
Present were team principal Datuk SeriTony Fernandes, his two deputies Datuk Kamarudin Meranun and S.M. Nasarudin, CEO Riad Asmat, Chief Technical Officer Mike Gascoyne and the three drivers Fairuz Fauzy, Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen.
Touted as the Father of Motor Racing in Malaysia, Dr Mahathir is the visionary behind the birth of the Sepang International Circuit and the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Asked on the significance of his visit, he said he came because he did not believe the team could get the car ready in time (for the season opening race in Bahrain on March 14).
“So, I challenged them, you get the car ready and I will come and sit in it.
“They actually got the car running. Well, I lost my bet but fortunately, no money is involved,” he said to laughter all round.
Dr Mahathir said normally, it would take a long time such as a year or more to build a racing car as had happened to others.
But it took the team only five months to build their car from scratch, he said, adding he knew something about building cars.
Saying he was impressed with what he saw, Dr Mahathir said they not only got the machinery and the factory but also the people familiar with building cars.
He said they were also lucky in that the factory originally belonged to Toyota and then Audi, thus everything was in place with little needed to be added on.
Dr Mahathir also said it would have been spectacular enough for him that the team could compete in Bahrain but “I hope they can do better.”
To a suggestion whether the team’s low operational budget could hinder its performance, he said all the others could use a lot more money for their teams. “But when we don’t have money, we can work with a small budget. It is okay, we can do it,” he said, referring to reports of the team’s one-third budget compared with McLaren’s.
Fernandes said it was not just about money but about Malaysian innovation, ingenuity, passion and great people.
He drew attention to a question by CNN once on how the team could compete when Toyota and Honda had pulled out.
“I said Air Asia made more money than Japan Airlines and All-Nippon Airways,” he said, adding the team was also competing against Ferrari which had been racing since 1930.
He added history had shown that those with huge budgets did not necessarily always succeed.
Fernandes cited Air Asia as a great example of having very little money to start off, and yet had become the world’s best low-cost carrier.
by Choi Tuck Wo, The Star Online