* Lotus to return for first time since 1994
* Malaysian-financed team gains place on grid
* Tony Fernandes to be team principal (Adds Gascoyne quotes paras 10-11)
By Alan Baldwin
LONDON, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Lotus, a glorious name from Formula One’s past, will return next year with a Malaysian-owned team replacing BMW-Sauber as the 13th entry on the starting grid.
The governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) said in a statement on Tuesday that, after due diligence and an intensive selection process, it had chosen Lotus F1 over two rival bids.
The new outfit will be a partnership between the Malaysian government and a consortium of Malaysian entrepreneurs and based initially in Britain with facilities also to be built at Malaysia’s Sepang circuit.
“The cars will be made in Malaysia, by Malaysians,” the Malaysian government said in a separate statement.
The vacancy arose after BMW announced they were withdrawing at the end of the season, following a path already trodden by Japan’s Honda.
The BMW team, due to be renamed after being sold to Swiss-based Qadbak Investments, was given a 14th slot as reserve if any other team pulls out with the FIA also seeking to expand the grid to accommodate them.
Leading Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes will be Lotus team principal.
The 45-year-old set up Asian budget airline Air Asia, currently sponsoring the Williams team, and is Malaysia’s 15th richest man with a net worth of $220 million according to the Forbes Malaysia 2009 rich list.
Technical director Mike Gascoyne was previously with Force India, their predecessors Jordan, Toyota and Renault.
“It will be a big challenge to get on the grid but certainly by mid-season I think we’d clearly like to be the best of the new teams and by the end of the year I would hope we have broken into the top 10 overall,” Gascoyne told the autosport.com website.
“With the team that Tony Fernandes has put together, and the backing of the Malaysian government, it has the opportunity to be something really big. We are aiming to take this team to the very top level in the long term.”
As part of its application to compete in the 2010 championship, the Lotus team agreed an engine supply deal with Cosworth.
Lotus will initially be based in Norfolk, some 10 miles from the original Lotus Cars factory in Eastern England, but the future design, manufacturing and technical centre will be purpose built at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit.
“The team will announce its two drivers by October 31, 2009. Currently six local and international drivers have been selected,” the Malaysian government said.
The original Lotus won seven Formula One constructors’ titles and six drivers’ crowns between 1963 and 1978 under the inspirational leadership of the late Colin Chapman, one of the most innovative engineers in the sport.
Chapman died of a heart attack in 1982 and the company slid into administration in 1994 after giving the late Brazilian Ayrton Senna his first victory in 1985.
British great Jim Clark spent his entire F1 career with Lotus, winning two titles. The team’s other champions include compatriot Graham Hill, Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi and American Mario Andretti.
In 1970 the team’s Austrian driver Jochen Rindt became the sport’s only posthumous champion.
The right to the Lotus F1 name was acquired by David Hunt, brother of the 1976 champion James, while the British-based car company was bought by Malaysian state-owned Proton.
Additional reporting by Julie Goh in Kuala Lumpur