announced today that it is evaluating a return to Formula 1, 12 years after its failed attempt to rejoin the World Championship in 1997 and 16 since it last contested a race as a factory team. But as a chassis builder the company has been involved on-and-off since 1962.
After being impressed by the performances of Lola machinery in Formula Junior, Reg Parnell commissioned Eric Broadley's company to build a car for his Bowmaker-backed team. The result, the lightweight Lola Mk4 claimed pole position on its debut in the hands of John Surtees in the 1962 Dutch Grand Prix. It was an impressive start, even though Surtees's race ended in an accident after he suffered a suspension failure.
Powered by a Coventry Climax V8, the car remained competitive throughout the season, despite never managing to convert its pace into a victory in a World Championship race. Surtees came close at both Silverstone and the Nurburgring, taking very competitive second places, on his way to finishing fourth in the championship after a series of late-season engine failures.
There was one victory that year though, the only one for an official Lola F1 car, with John Surtees defeating Jack Brabham's Lotus in the International 2000 Gunieas non-championship race at British circuit Mallory Park in June of that year.
Surtees left the team at the end of the season following the withdrawal of Yeoman Credit money, leaving rookie Chris Amon and rapidfire sequences of other drivers to endure a pointless season with the underdeveloped Mk4A before Lola pulled out at the end of the season to concentrate on other projects.
That was the last time that a full-blown Lola F1 car appeared in the world championship in the 1960s, although there were two more forays. One was merely a couple of appearances for Lola F2 cars in the 1967 and 1968 German Grands Prix in the hands of Hubert Hahne, but the other was more significant. In fact, it was to stand as Lola's most successful F1 car, even if the record books don't show it.
Honda had come into F1 in 1964, and despite a victory for Richie Ginther in the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix, the Japanese manufacturer had not managed to live up to expectations (sound familiar?). In 1966, Honda had struggled and even a modified version of the unwieldy RA273 machine proved uncompetitive the following season.
Honda knew the car was obsolete before the season had even begun and had allowed new signing Surtees to spearhead the development of a new car in association with Lola. The result – the RA300 – was officially a Honda, but in reality was very much a Lola, a fact reflected in it being dubbed the "Hondola."
It took a while, but despite only being ready for the Italian Grand Prix, the lighter (but not light by the standards of its rivals) and more nimble Hondola was instantly competitive. Once Jim Clark, who had sensationally gone from last and a lap down after suffering a puncture on his Lotus to the lead, had run out of fuel, Surtees was able to outwit Jack Brabham in the Parabolica to win.
It was a promising start, but Honda was still keen to produce its own in-house car and, as the RA301 struggled to recapture the marque's winning form, it was working on its own machine without Lola's input.
The RA302 was a tragically ill-starred car, appearing only once in the hands of Jo Schlesser in the 1968 French Grand Prix. After he crashed fatally on lap three, Honda made the decision to pull out at the end of the season, ending any hopes of Lola staying involved in F1.
Lola's next appearance in F1 wasn't until 1974, when it designed and built a car for two-times world champion Graham Hill's Embassy Racing team. The Lola T370, which drew plenty of cues from the marque's Formula 5000 car, proved to be too heavy and unwieldy to be competitive, with only one point in the 1974 Swedish Grand Prix to its name.
Its successor, the T371, emerged at the start of 1975 and was soon reworked into the first official Hill.
Lola returned to F1 with the much-vaunted Carl Haas-run Beatrice Foods-backed team late in 1985. With good financial backing and the out-of-retirement 1980 champion Alan Jones driving, Eric Broadley was called in to design its car – the THL1.
Powered by a Hart turbo unit, the team made an inauspicious debut in the closing stages of the 1985 season, and work on the Broadley-penned THL2 wasn't complete in time for it to run until the third race of 1986, the San Marino Grand Prix. Jones raced the car, effectively a repackaged THL1 with a shortened wheelbase and built around a Ford Cosworth engine, at Imola without distinction.
The car never looked like being anything other than midfielder at best and, against a backdrop of constant rumors about the team's future, results were thin on the ground. Fourth and fifth places for Jones and teammate Patrick Tambay in Austria were as good as it got, and when the team was closed down most of it was sold to Bernie Ecclestone.
Just as that avenue closed, another one opened. Former Le Mans 24 Hours winner Gerard Larrousse wanted to put together his own F1 team for 1987, and with slim pickings of personnel in his native France he opted to call on the help of Lola.
The Lola LC87 (designated LC in deference to Larrousse and his backer Didier Calmels) was heavily based on Lola's F3000 machinery, but mated to the Ford Cosworth DFZ engine it was a credible performer. Although the Ralph Bellamy-designed chassis rarely ventured beyond the back four rows of the grid, Lola and Larrousse chipped away at the car through the season, with Philippe Alliot picking up three sixth places and late-season team-mate Yannick Dalmas finishing fifth in Australia.
It was a good start, but the team went backwards in its second year with the LC88. No longer based on F3000 machinery, the car was ill-handing and a little heavy, meaning that Alliot, Dalmas and late-season recruit Aguri Suzuki ended the season pointless.
But behind the scenes, Larrousse had been working hard and managed to secure the supply of Lamborghini engines for 1989. With highly-rated Gerard Ducarouge joining the team as technical director, he worked closely with Lola on the production of the LC89.
Despite being a more elegantly-packaged design, the LC89 was unreliable and only very sporadically quick. Too often the second car failed to qualify – even in the hands of five-times grand prix winner Michele Alboreto – although Alliot managed to grab a solitary point in the Spanish Grand Prix
The following year's Lola 90 at last allowed the partnership to head in the right direction, with the car taking a major step forward in speed and reliability. A strong season was capped with Suzuki's third place in the Japanese Grand Prix, only for the team to be stripped of sixth place in the constructors' championship post-season when it was decided that the car was not built by Larrousse.
Lola was no longer involved with Larrousse in 1991, although the French team continued to struggle on with a reworked version of the 90.
Lola's next partner team was Scuderia Italia after the Italian team fell out with previous chassis supplier Dallara. With Ferrari engines and a driver line-up of Alboreto and reigning F3000 champion Luca Badoer, hopes were high for 1993.
Despite Alboreto qualifying on the fringes of the top 10 for the first few races of the season, the team's best results was a 12th place in the Brazilian Grand Prix for Luca Badoer – in just the second race of his F1 career. The car spent the rest of the season welded to the back of the field and Scuderia Italia's F1 team was closed down at the end of the year.
After going as far as producing a test car for a possible F1 entry in 1995, Lola made an attempt to claim the last available slot on the F1 grid with a Mastercard-backed entry in 1997. The hugely rushed T97, powered by a Ford engine, had barely turned a wheel when drivers Vincenzo Sospiri and Riccardo Rosset attempted to make the grid for the Australian Grand Prix.
They were nowhere near qualifying and by the time the team arrived in Brazil, Mastercard had puled out and Lola disappeared from F1... until 2010?