SIGNIFICANCE: Scored the first of 155 F1 Grand Prix wins for the Cosworth DFV engine, won the 1968 Drivers' Championship (Graham Hill) and Constructors' Championship
DESIGNERS: Colin Chapman, Maurice Philippe
ENGINE: 3-liter, V8-cyl, 408hp Cosworth
Taking pole (Graham Hill) and winning (Jimmy Clark) on the Lotus 49's debut at Zandvoort was a significant warning for its rivals that a new force had arrived in F1 in the form of the Cosworth DFV engine. Still, even Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth in their wildest dreams wouldn't have foreseen that it would still be able to win F1 races in 1983.
Clark would score three more wins that season, and opened the '68 season with a fifth victory for the 49. Following Jimmy's death in an F2 race on April 7, Hill bound together the shattered team, winning three races and the World Championship. He and new teammate Jackie Oliver also clinched Lotus the Constructors' championship.
By then, the Lotus 49 was in B-spec, with ducktail rear spoiler and nose wings and it was in this form that it won again at Monaco the following year to bring Hill his fifth win on that track. New teammate Jochen Rindt drove it to victory in Watkins Glen that year, and using a 49C (revised uprights and larger diameter wheels) also took the 1970 Monaco GP. Two races later, though, the 49 – and most other F1 cars – were rendered obsolete by the next Chapman/Philippe masterpiece…
SIGNIFICANCE: Took two drivers to the World Championship, and earned three Constructors' crowns.
DESIGNERS: Colin Chapman, Maurice Philippe
ENGINE: 3-liter, V8-cyl, 440-475hp Cosworth
If the 25 and 49 were remarkable for winning over a span of four seasons, the Lotus 72 went one better, taking five wins in 1970 and three in 1974. The Lotus 56 turbine car's performance at Indianapolis in 1968 had shown the importance of a low frontal area in racing car design, and those lessons were applied to the 72, with its chisel nose and wedge-shaped body, which made it 12mph quicker in a straight line than the 49.
But the 72 didn't just look futuristic; it genuinely was innovative, with radiators in sidepods just in front of the rear wheels and, behind the driver's head, an air intake which varied in size, form and position through the car's six seasons as Tony Rudd made tweaks that kept the car one step ahead of most of its rivals. Inboard brakes and clever suspension geometry massively reduced the amount of weight transfer under braking and acceleration.
Tragically, Jochen Rindt was killed in one in practice at the Italian Grand Prix of 1970, but his points tally was such that he couldn't be toppled in the remaining races and he became F1's only posthumous World Champion. His replacement, Emerson Fittipaldi, won a race in '70, and although the team went winless in 1971 as the Tyrrell 001 and Jackie Stewart dominated, Emmo fought back to not only win the Drivers' Championship, but also lead Lotus to the Constructors' crown. In 1973, Fittipaldi was joined by Ronnie Peterson, and although both lost out to Stewart, the pair of them again won the Constructors' title for Lotus.
With the 72's intended replacement, the 76, nowhere near competitive enough, Lotus kept on with the classic beast in 72E form in 1974 and, despite far newer opposition from McLaren and Ferrari, Peterson still took three wins, one of them at Dijon in France (pictured). Stretching the 72's life into '75 was a step too far, however, and even Peterson's acrobatics weren't enough to keep it at the front.
SIGNIFICANCE: First ground-effect car in Formula 1
DESIGNERS: Ralph Bellamy, Colin Chapman, Martin Ogilvie, Tony Rudd, Peter Wright
ENGINE: 3-liter, V8-cyl, 475hp Cosworth
So did we only include the 78 because this writer thinks it even sexier than its legendary successor? Or because this car really should have taken Mario Andretti to the 1977 World Championship? A little bit of both. The 78 was the first F1 car to successfully capture the ground-effect phenomenon, the shaped underbody of the car sucking it down onto the road as speeds increased, and radiators at the front of the sidepods feeding cool air in and having the hot air ducted over the top, via Bernoulli's principle of fluid dynamics. Tony Rudd and Peter Wright got the underbody right, Colin Chapman came up with the radiator idea after studying a World War II fighter-bomber, the De Havilland Mosquito. Obviously the concept was inverted from plane to car – where the “Mossie” needed lift, the Lotus needed downforce, but it was successful. Andretti famously said “If this car hugged the track any closer it would be a white line. It literally feels painted to the road.”
There was a downside: the 78's low pressure area was too far forward, necessitating a large rear wing to balance the car. Cosworth tried to compensate by providing engines of 8-10hp extra but their unreliability was to cost Andretti the title, despite four wins to champion Niki Lauda's three. Andretti's Swedish teammate Gunnar Nilsson scored his solitary F1 win in the rain at Zolder (pictured).
Nilsson was replaced by another Swede, Lotus returnee Ronnie Peterson for 1978, and both Peterson and Andretti scored a win in the 78 in '78, before “Black Beauty” emerged from the Lotus stable.
SIGNIFICANCE: Took Mario Andretti to the World Championship in 1978
DESIGNERS: Geoff Aldridge, Colin Chapman, Martin Ogilvie, Tony Rudd, Peter Wright
ENGINE: 3-liter, V8-cyl, 480hp Cosworth
Has there ever been an F1 car more photographed than the Lotus 79? The black and gold color scheme helped its visual appeal, of course, but the green Martini livery it wore the following year, when its successor was proving difficult (to say the least), proved that minimal but elegant lines remained one of Lotus' calling cards. It worked under the skin, too, as the Lotus 78's issues were addressed effectively. The 79's rear bodywork and underside venturis extended back between the rear wheels so that the low pressure area was far longer and more evenly spread. With a cleaner exit for air at the rear, the rear wing was able to be smaller, and so drag was reduced.
The 79 won on its debut in Andretti's hands at Zolder (pictured) and four more wins took him to the championship. Peterson won at Kyalami in the 78 and backed this up with a superb win in the wet at Osterreichring in the 79, but he died following a startline crash at Monza, the race in which Mario sealed the title. Nonetheless, the Swede had done enough to finish second in the points standings. And his replacement, Jean-Pierre Jarier, dominated the Canadian Grand Prix until his engine failed.
The following year Carlos Reutemann joined Andretti, and while Mario tried to make the elegantly dramatic Lotus 80 work (it did only at the slow Jarama course, where Mario got on the podium), Reutemann stuck to the old 79, scoring a handful of podium finishes but no wins.
SIGNIFICANCE: Ingenious but banned before it became revolutionary
DESIGNERS: Colin Chapman, Martin Ogilvie, Tony Rudd, Peter Wright
ENGINE: 3-liter, V8-cyl, 500hp Cosworth
If you believed that F1 was the cutting edge of technology and were entranced to see and study the new cars for the forthcoming season, you desperately wanted the Lotus 88 to work. It was a very inspired way to deal with the 1981 F1 regulations that saw sliding skirts banned, but instead had every team deliberately flouting the “6cm ground clearance” rules. Cars would pass the test in pitlane, but then hug the road on track, restricting suspension movement to little more than an inch in order to gain consistent ground effect. The toll it took on drivers was huge.
The Lotus 88 (the prototype, devised when skirts were permitted, was the 86) countered this human fatigue problem with a twin chassis. Engine, gearbox, suspension and cockpit were mounted on the carbon fiber/Kevlar second chassis which was independently sprung from the primary chassis which carried the huge carbon fiber sidepods and fixed skirts. Thus the downforce was acting directly on the suspension to create ground effect, while the secondary chassis was relatively softly sprung so that drivers Elio de Angelis (pictured at Rio) and Nigel Mansell were enjoying a far softer ride than their rivals.
Was Chapman onto something here? Certainly the concept worried rival team owners enough that they protested the car at every race it was taken to. Race stewards and, eventually, the F1 governing body FISA sided with the other teams. But doubtless what really upset the Lotus founder is that he was being protested by a bunch of guys who were circumventing the regulations but by far less innovative methods!