PARIS (AFP) - French auto manufacturer Renault have signed a letter of intent to take a controlling stake in the cash-strapped Lotus Formula One team, the company said on Monday.
Renault said they had struck a deal with the Lotus team's current owners Genii Capital and said it marked the manufacturer's "first step towards the project of a Renault Formula 1 team from the 2016 racing season".
Due to their financial problems, Lotus were embarrassingly locked out of paddock hospitality at the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend and left anxiously waiting for their engines before the race.
Despite the pre-race problems, the team's French driver Romain Grosjean finished seventh in the race at Suzuka.
Renault have already announced they will end their eight-year partnership with Red Bull - which garnered four driver's titles in a row - after becoming angered by the Austrian team's criticism of their engines this year.
Lotus have been in financial trouble all year as Genii Capital scaled back their investment in the team, resulting in unpaid bills and a cash-flow problem.
They were locked out of their hospitality building over debts relating to last year's race at Suzuka.
On Monday, they were also due in court over an unpaid tax bill.
It has been a dramatic fall from grace since the relatively successful 2012 and 2013 seasons in which they finished fourth in the constructors' championship.
Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen of Finland won races for Lotus in both those seasons but walked out two races before the end of the 2013 campaign, claiming he had not received any salary that year.
Lotus' fortunes slumped dramatically in 2014 and although Grosjean finished seventh at Spa in Belgium last month as well as at Suzuka, things have not been much better in 2015.
The move to buy Lotus is in essence a matter of buying back the team Renault sold to Genii Capital in 2009 and which was renamed Lotus F1 Team for the 2012 season.
The team itself started out as Toleman Motorsport in 1981 and was based in Oxfordshire, England.
It was purchased by the Benetton family in 1985 and renamed Benetton Formula, enjoying its greatest period in the early to mid-1990s as F1 great Michael Schumacher won back-to-back drivers' titles in 1994-95, while the team also won the constructors' crown in the latter year.
Renault bought the team in 2000 and renamed it Renault F1 two years later, before selling it on to Genii Capital.
Lotus Cars became involved in 2011 and the team was again renamed in 2012 but continued to use Renault engines until this year when they switched to Mercedes.
Renault's previous stint as an F1 constructor ended in controversy, after they were accused in 2009 by former driver Nelson Piquet Jr of staging a crash to fix a race the previous season, won by Spain's Fernando Alonso in the team's other car.
Renault opted not to contest the charges and received a two-year suspended ban over the incident, which saw team principal Flavio Briatore and engineer Pat Symonds leave the stable.