Sunday, Dec. 16 was the 30th anniversary of the death of Lotus founder Colin Chapman. While his sports cars were dramatic-looking and successful, and his forays to Indy were dramatic or successful, the core of his business lay in Formula 1.
Here, RACER Editor David Malsher pays homage to the most significant Team Lotus F1 cars. Not all of them are great, but they each marked an important milestone in the Norfolk, UK, team's history. And the great ones…well, they just prove that Chapman was one of motorsports' true geniuses.
SIGNIFICANCE: The first Lotus single-seater and the first car that Team Lotus entered into a Formula 1 Grand Prix, and the F1 first points-scoring car for Team Lotus.
DESIGNER: Colin Chapman, aero by Frank Costin
ENGINE: 2.0/2.2-liter, 4-cyl, 175/195hp, Coventry Climax
Originally designed for Formula 2's 1.5-liter formula, Cliff Allison and rookie Graham Hill also had to the Lotus 12 in F1, briefly, as its successor, the Lotus 16, was not ready in time for the start of the 1958 F1 season. Allison scored a handful of points, the high-water mark being fourth place at Spa (pictured). Incidentally, all three cars ahead of him broke on the slowing down lap, so had the race been just one lap longer….
It would be followed by the Lotus 16, which was maybe the most aerodynamically efficient front-engined F1 car ever, but rarely troubled the scorers due to reliability issues.
SIGNIFICANCE: The first Lotus to score a F1 Grand Prix victory, the first rear-engined Lotus single-seater
DESIGNER: Colin Chapman
ENGINE: (1960) 2.5-liter, 4-cyl, 237hp Coventry Climax; (1961) 1.5-liter, 4-cyl, 155hp Coventry Climax
When Innes Ireland's Lotus 18 beat Stirling Moss's Rob Walker-entered Cooper at a non-championship F1 race at Goodwood, Walker switched allegiance to Lotus virtually on the spot! At Monaco (pictured), Moss duly took pole by a second, and dominated the race, and there was a virtual repeat performance in the U.S. Grand Prix at Riverside.
The following year Moss's Walker-run Lotus 18 – now fitted with the 1.5-liter engine in accordance to the FIA's new F1 regs, beat the Ferraris to the checkered flag at both Monaco and the Nurburgring, the latter performance aided by both a damp track and the sleeker body from the Lotus 21…
SIGNIFICANCE: The first Lotus to score a F1 Grand Prix victory for the works team
DESIGNER: Colin Chapman
ENGINE: 1.5-liter, 4-cyl, 155hp Coventry Climax
F1's dramatic cut to 1.5-liter engines had added 2-2.5sec to the lap times of F1 cars and the Dino V6 units in the lovely Sharknose Ferrari 156s had a good 30hp advantage on any cars powered by Coventry Climax 4-cylinder engines. But the aerodynamic body sheathing the Lotus 21 – note how much less boxy it appears than the 18 – aided the cause, and Innes Ireland led the second half of the U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen (pictured) to give Colin Chapman the first win for Team Lotus. However, this wasn't enough for Ireland to retain his ride on the team, for Chapman was convinced that another Scotsman, Jimmy Clark, would be the future of Team Lotus.
SIGNIFICANCE: The first-ever F1 car of monocoque design, the car that provided Lotus with its first World Champion driver, and its first Constructors' championship.
DESIGNER: Colin Chapman
ENGINE: 1.5-liter, V8-cyl, 200hp Coventry Climax
No more tubular spaceframe, instead a fully-stressed monocoque which was vastly more rigid and yet significantly lighter than its rivals, with its driver sitting between the sides of the backbone, and in a near prone position. The significantly reduced frontal area ensured the 25 slipped through the air better than any of its rivals, and it was only mechanical failures that prevented Jimmy Clark and Lotus from claiming F1's Drivers' and Constructors' Championships respectively.
This was rectified in 1963, when seven of the 10 grands prix fell to the Clark/25 combination, and it wasn't until the sixth round of the '64 season that the champion switched to the Lotus 33. Even then, the legendary 25 wasn't yet done. Used as a spare, it was pressed into service at the 1965 French Grand Prix and the result was a pole/fastest lap/victory for Clark. That brought this beautiful car's tally to 14 wins and 17 poles spread over four seasons. Pictured is Clark heading to victory in the 1963 British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
SIGNIFICANCE: Took Clark and Lotus to their respective World Championships in 1965.
DESIGNERS: Colin Chapman, Len Terry
ENGINE: 1.5-liter, V8-cyl, 205hp Coventry Climax
The Lotus 33 was supposed to be campaigned throughout the 1964 season, but when Clark was wrongfooted by a backmarker in a non-championship F1 race at the start of the year, he crashed heavily and reverted to the 25. With four rounds to go in the '64 season, the 33 was ready again, but mechanical problems in the remaining rounds cost Clark and Lotus the championships.
However, the 33 contributed five of Clark's six wins in '65 and so confident were he and Chapman in their ability to clinch their F1 crowns that they skipped the Monaco race to compete in the Indy 500 in the gorgeous Lotus 38. (That was totally worth it: at the third time of asking at The Brickyard, they won.)
The 33 was pressed into service again in 1966 when F1 changed its regs to 3-liter. Lotus were meant to use the 3-liter BRM unit in the Lotus 43, but that engine wasn't ready, and so a Coventry Climax bored out to 2-liters was the best Lotus could manage in the interim. Remarkably, Clark took pole at both Monaco and the Nurburgring, his last F1 race in a Lotus 33.
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!
SIGNIFICANCE: The first raced Lotus to use a carbon fiber chassis, the final Lotus to win in front of Chapman
DESIGNERS: Colin Chapman, Martin Ogilvie, Tony Rudd
ENGINE: 3-liter, V8-cyl, 500hp Cosworth
Like most teams without a turbo unit in 1982, Lotus was simultaneously trying to shave weight from its cars and land a deal with a turbo engine supplier. The result was a conventional but light '82 season contender and a deal with Renault for '83. Meanwhile, the 91 was fairly unremarkable other than its use of a carbon fiber chassis and the fact that it was the first Lotus to test Lotus's active suspension system. Maybe the 91's elegant bodywork is worth celebrating, too, considering the bulkiness of the 92 (the final Cosworth car) and 93T (the first Renault turbo-powered car) used by Mansell and de Angelis, respectively, for the first half of 1983.
But no, the 91's most significant aspect is the fact that after four barren years, Colin Chapman was able to throw his cap in the air (RIGHT) when in the Austrian Grand Prix (pictured), de Angelis edged Keke Rosberg's Williams to the checkered flag by 0.05sec. True, it had been a fortunate win because the far faster turbo cars had all lunched themselves, but it was very appropriate that one of Chapman's cars should score the Cosworth DFV's 150th F1 victory.
Sadly, on Dec. 16, 1982, Chapman died of a heart attack at the age of just 54, having overseen six Drivers' World Championships and seven Constructors' World Championships.
SIGNIFICANCE: Scored the first turbocharged wins for a Lotus F1 car.
DESIGNERS: Gerard Ducarouge, Martin Ogilvie
ENGINE: 1.5-liter turbo V6, 900hp Renault
Under the guidance of Peter Warr, Lotus continued in a manner of which Colin Chapman would have been proud, signing the excellent Gerard Ducarouge to pen the cars, and, for 1985, replacing Nigel Mansell with Ayrton Senna. Mansell had lost his talisman when Chapman died, and he and Warr never got along, and thus there was a desperate quality to Nigel's driving through '83 and '84 as he sought to match the highly talented but sometimes flaky Elio de Angelis and thus prove Warr wrong. De Angelis had earned third position in the '84 championship behind the dominant McLarens, but had never looked like winning a race. Mansell, by contrast, had been inconsistent yet clearly had the pace to win a couple of races before throwing them away with errors. The team needed someone with all their qualities and more…
That man was Senna. The Brazilian sophomore used Ducarouge's Lotus 97 to take seven pole positions (de Angelis took one) and his first two F1 wins (de Angelis scored one, but only after Alain Prost's McLaren was disqualified from the results of the San Marino GP).
The Lotus-Renault/Senna combo would take another couple wins and another eight poles in '86 using Ducarouge's even more attractive Lotus 98T.
SIGNIFICANCE: Scored the first ever wins for an active suspension F1 car, scored the final wins for Team Lotus.
DESIGNERS: Gerard Ducarouge, Martin Ogilvie
ENGINE: 1.5-liter turbo V6, 800hp Honda
In previous years, Gerard Ducarouge's designs had comfortably eclipsed other F1 cars using the same Renault power units, but in '87, with a Honda V6 under the “hood,” he was competing against Williams, which already had three years of experience with variants of the Japanese engine. By comparison, the Lotus came up short.
The active suspension system was a double-edged sword. Yes, it kept the car at a constant ride height and was far less susceptible to pitch and roll than conventionally sprung cars; little surprise that it smothered the bumps of Monaco and Detroit (pictured) well enough for Ayrton Senna to score wins at both. But on the flip side, the system weighed 50lbs and sapped 30-50hp from the engine, depending on who you believe. While Ducarouge worked hard to compensate for this with improved aerodynamics, the 99T looked bulkier than the super-quick Williams FW11Bs…and one of those, it must be noted, won the first time it raced with Williams' active suspension system at Monza.
Aside from his two wins, sheer consistency made Senna a frequent podium visitor and he finished third in the championship…but when the world's fastest driver only scores one pole position in a season, it tends to suggest he didn't have the fastest equipment.
SIGNIFICANCE: Scored Team Lotus' final podium finishes
DESIGNERS: Gerard Ducarouge, Martin Ogilvie
ENGINE: 1.5-liter turbo V6, 650hp Honda
The FIA's new regs putting the driver's feet further behind the front axle line helped stretch this car out and make it look far more elegant than its predecessor, but in terms of achievement the 100T was no match for the 99T. With reigning World Champion Nelson Piquet (pictured) arriving from Williams as Ayrton Senna headed to McLaren, some expected Lotus to at least retain some of the magic of the past three years but the car was way off the pace of the McLaren MP4/4, despite using identical Honda V6 turbos, reduced to 2.5-bar boost in this final year of the turbo era.
There were races where Piquet was lapped by the McLarens, and he more usually found himself battling with the top normally aspirated cars from Benetton, Williams and March. The reversion to conventional suspension had helped in terms of weight, of course, but Gerard Ducarouge admitted while working on the active suspension the previous year, the team had lost some ground. Through the season Piquet talked of the car lacking rigidity and/or the mechanical balance not being what it should be, and there were frequent suspension geometry revisions. Piquet took just three top-three finishes that year, but it's good that one of them came at the season finale in Adelaide, the last race of Turbo Era I.
SIGNIFICANCE: The final Team Lotus F1 car
DESIGNER: Chris Murphy
ENGINE: 3.5 liter V10, 750hp Mugen-Honda
From 1989 onward, Lotus fans watched their favorite team enter a six-year decline. The ultra-slim Frank Dernie-designed 101 and 102, powered by Judd and then Lamborghini engines were the final ones to display Camel yellow. At the end of 1990, former Benetton and Williams team manager Peter Collins, along with Peter Wright, assembled a consortium that helped keep the wolf from Team Lotus's door, but he was never far away thereafter. The Frank Coppuck-designed 102B-D, reverting to Judd power, was a compromised stopgap. In fact it was a miracle how good it was. But the Chris Murphy-designed 107, using the Ford Cosworth HB V8, really gave us hope for Lotus, as Mika Hakkinen and Johnny Herbert put in several strong performances in 1992, Herbert continuing this fine work in '93.
However, by 1994, the similarly attractive 109's shape was ruined by a nightmare color-scheme which reflected the fact that the team had many small sponsors, but none providing substantial funding. Herbert, Alex Zanardi (pictured in Lotus' final race at Adelaide in '94), Mika Salo, Pedro Lamy and Eric Bernard did their best (and Philippe Adams tried not to look out of his depth in his two outings with the team), but the cast of thousands was symptomatic of a team struggling for every dollar and cent and Lotus didn't even score a point in what was to prove its final F1 season.
It was a sad end for a legendary team which, over its 37 seasons, had scored six drivers' championships, seven constructors' titles and racked up 79 victories. And don't let anyone tell you it was not the “real” Lotus once Chapman had died: his hires did a commendable job keeping Lotus winning in the mid-'80s; the core remained. And here's a thought: although Colin's enthusiasm for F1 was dampened during the Lotus 88 debacle, you can be certain that signing someone of Ayrton Senna's genius would have re-lit Chapman's fire. Heck, maybe Ayrton would have never left…