Fernandes: F1 still in excellent shape

Lotus team principal Tony Fernandes thinks Formula 1 will quickly shrug off the loss of several manufacturer teams in the past 12 months, and that it remains an excellent platform for businesses

Fernandes: F1 still in excellent shape

Air Asia founder Fernandes is making the transition from F1 sponsor to team boss with the new Lotus project next year. He believes the world championship still has plenty of recognisable brands even after the departure of Honda, BMW and Toyota and that their withdrawels will have no effect on the level of interest in the sport.

"If you look at a lot of those brands, Formula 1 created them as well and I think in this case there will be many brands that will become as big as some of these other guys," he said in a keynote address at the Motor Sport Business Forum in Monaco today. "McLaren is looking at making a car, obviously we have a relationship with Lotus.

"But I think Formula 1 is big enough anyway. With or without manufacturers, people will still come - it's not because of BMW or Toyota or the other manufacturers that people came to Formula 1. They came before the manufacturers, they came after the manufacturers left, and they will come back again. It is the sport that people come to, not the teams.

"As long as the sport's exciting and there is a lot of interest and personalities in it, people will come. I have no fear about that."

Fernandes compared his decision to become an F1 team boss at a time of great change in the sport to his move into the airline industry immediately after the 11 September terrorist attacks in 2001.

"Everyone said that's a crazy time to start an airline, it's in crisis etc, etc," he said. "But I thought it was a great time, because the incumbents were in a little bit of a state of flux, and it gives a new entrant such as us with very little capital the chance to go in there and try and start something.

"Formula 1 is nowhere near the state that the airline business was after 9/11. But we see opportunities - I think things are going the right way. Costs may be coming down. I still think it's a phenomenally successful sport. There are still lots of ways of making this a really good business, and it's a great business for other businesses to sit on as a platform."

Although Lotus's budget was originally planned around the budget cap proposal, Fernandes is quite happy with the Resource Restriction Agreement that was instigated instead.

"It gives us everything we need," he said. "Obviously at one stage we were ready to put a team out at £40 million because that's what we were told the cap was going to be. Obviously we're in favour of having less money to build a car but it's still exciting.

"I am still confused as to where all the extra money goes when you have a team with £150 million. I'm still trying to understand my £55 million.

"We think we are going to have a very reasonable car. We know we aren't going to be competing [at the front] in year one, but it takes time and we'll have a good basis for moving forward. But the idea of capping costs is a good one, because you do need good teams, you do need a competitive grid."

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Q & A with Tony Fernandes

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