The return of Team Lotus

For many race fans today will be a significant one. This evening in London the new Lotus F1 will launch its 2010 challenger, and by doing so will inherit – to a lesser or greater extent – the mantle of one of Formula 1’s greatest names. The team seems to have decent funding. It has the expertise of Mike Gascoyne and it has two very decent drivers in Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen. It remains to be seen whether this is enough to successfully revive the Lotus name in F1. That is clearly the ambition. The car is expected to appear in the green and yellow that used to adorn Lotus F1 cars in the days before the team introduced sponsorship to the sport in 1968.

“I think everyone will love the colour scheme of the F1 car,” said Gascoyne Twitter-ed recently.

The man who is making all this possible is Malaysian Tony Fernandes, who used to work for Richard Branson and in recent years has built himself a business empire which looks like it has been modelled on Branson’s Virgin concept. His AirAsia business is doing well. Fernandes says that the team will be serious, but that it will take time to build up. This is the right approach.

For those who do not know, Lotus dates back to 1952 when an aspiring racing driver called Colin Chapman built his own racing machine from an old Austin Seven (below).

He called it a Lotus because he and his mates worked so many hours building it that they were continually falling asleep, which is what the Lotus flower is supposed to induce. The car was successful and soon Chapman had a business building replicas of the original and with the money raised by this enterprise he started his own Team Lotus and this entered F1 in Monaco in 1958 with drivers Graham Hill (below) and Cliff Allison.

The first Lotus victory came two years later when Rob Walker decided to switch from Cooper to Lotus machinery and Stirling Moss drove to victory. It would be 18 moths before Team Lotus won its first victory with Innes Ireland driving at Watkins Glen at the end of 1961. By then Jim Clark was in the ascendant and using Chapman’s innovative Lotus 25 (the first real monocoque car), the 33 and later the 49 with the Lotus-inspired Cosworth DFV engine, Clark won two World Championships in 1963 and 1965. It should have been five but mechanical problems let him down in 1962, 1964 and 1967 as well. These were the glory days of the team (below).

Clark was killed early in 1968 and Graham Hill stepped up and won the World Championship that year and led the team into the age of sponsorship. (below).

Team Lotus would go on to win the title again in 1970 with Jochen Rindt, but the great Austrian driver was killed before the end of the season and was the sport’s only posthumous World Champion. Emerson Fittipaldi was the next Lotus star, while the team adopted the iconic JPS livery and won the title in 1972, while Ronnie Peterson (below) was another popular Lotus contender in the era (below).

The team continued to look for innovation and in the mid 1970s pioneered ground-effect aerodynamics, which culminated in Mario Andretti’s World Championship success in 1978 (below).

Success was harder to come by in the 1980s and the death of Chapman at the age of only 54 in December 1982 was a big setback. After Chapman’s death the running of the racing team was taken over by Peter Warr but in the early 1980s Nigel Mansell and Elio de Angelis (below) were perpetual nearly men.

When Ayrton Senna was recruited in 1985 (below) things improved but at the end of 1986 the team lost JPS and switched to Camel. Senna was lured away to McLaren in 1988 the team slipped back on the grid.

With the new normally-aspirated engine regulations in 1989 Lotus lost its Honda engines and things began to unravel. In the end the team was taken over by former Team Lotus employees Peter Collins and Peter Wright, who hired youngsters Mika Hakkinen (below) and Johnny Herbert in 1991. Money was short but the team struggled on, replacing Hakkinen with Alex Zanardi.

Debts mounted and the team faded away early in 1995.

20 thoughts on “The return of Team Lotus

  1. Joe, my compliments to you on a super nostalgia piece, together with some excellent photos. I just enjoyed my lunch break reading this a couple of times.

  2. Joe,
    Team Lotus was sponsored as GOLD LEAF TEAM LOTUS in 1968. They first appeared in the TASMAN SERIES that year.

    I cannot recall if they were GLTL in the New Zealand first part of the series, but, they definitely showed up in Australia with those colours. I recall that they had to cover up the GOLD LEAF at Surfers Paradise . This was due to the fact that advertising was banned in Australian motor racing in those days.

    In 1969, LOTUS ran John Rindt and Graham Hill in the series, with the high wings, which were eventually banned after the wing collapses at Barcelona race (?).

    I still have a signed photo of Graham Hill at Lakeside, Queensland in the 1969 race. Damon Hill also signed it for me at Suzuka in 1993.

  3. Whatever problems (and I hope there are none) Gasgoyne and his Lotus F1 Team encounter, they can’t degrade the Lotus legacy any more than hiring Phillipe Adams (and the subsequent balliffs’ visit) in 1994 did.

  4. Outside of a name, is there any connection of this effort to the old true Lotus? (Name rights-squatting doesn’t count.)

  5. Mr. Saward,

    Great overview of Lotus history. One point though, Clark won the 1965 championship in a type 33, I believe. Although Jim won in the Type 49’s first race he never won the F1 crown in it.

  6. I suppose if we are to be generous, the Rottweiler is probably cut from the same carbon fibre as Chapman was (not that they had it back then, but you knw what i mean…)

  7. @David Hodge
    I agree a nice nostalic article, full of memories. It was only last night I was watching the Murray W. Jim Clark tribute (on You tube). My first “live” GP was 1973 at Silverstone with Emerson & Ronnie in the JPS ’72’s – the Jody Scheckter spin / accident one – eventually won by Peter Revson with a certai James Hunt 4th in a March. Interestingly I note there were 9 drivers racing under the Union Jack – what happened to them?

    James Hunt
    Jackie Stewart
    Mike Beuttler
    John Watson
    Graham Hill
    Mike Hailwood
    Roger Williamson
    Jackie Oliver
    David Purley

    I ask slightly tounge in cheeck 🙂

    Some great names from a great time and sadly some fantistic people (not just names) who will be / are sadly missed.

  8. I love those old pics, I remember getting a 1978 Black/Gold Lotus and a White/Red McLaren as toy cars in a set, even though the first races I can remember were years later….

  9. And they’re both owned by Proton, of course.

    Am I right in thinking the designation – T127 – refers to a Lotus type number? I posted in haste at Another Place earlier today without really checking up. I think the Evora Cup car is type 124, so it would seem to make sense, assuming the car firm has a couple of unannounced projects on the go already.

  10. Okay (I hate it when I have second thoughts about blog comments), before you say it, Joe, part owned.

    But I don’t consider it name rights squatting. That was what Litespeed originally proposed – just licencing the name – and I think the circumstances of the team’s coming to be have soured a lot of people towards it. If Proton had come along a year ago and said they were putting up 30% towards a new Lotus F1 team at the old Tom’s factory and were looking for investment partners, I suspect a fair few of the cynics would be hailing it as a glorious return, and to hell with the legacy Team Lotus.

    After all, a shared ownership and an official type number for the car are all anyone could reasonably expect any modern Lotus team to have in common with the car firm. The days of shared technology, factories, or even personnel are gone. I definitely consider this to be a real Lotus, but I reserve the right to change my mind when the whole outfit’s shipped off to Malaysia. 😉

  11. Don’t forget that Team Lotus and Lotus Cars weren’t under common ownership since Lotus Cars went public. Chapman did, of course…

    Nonetheless, it still leaves a sour taste. It’s impossible to lay down every circumstance in which such an exercise is or is not reasonable, but this one feels wrong.

  12. The new Lotus team do not have anything to share with the old Lotus team apart of the name. The new team doesn’t have the charisma and the soul of the old team.

    As for the 2010 car… the ugliest I’ve seen so far this year. Uglier than Renault.

  13. The defining moment for Lotus was when Chapman’s response to news of Delorean’s grant to open up in Belfast was “I’ll have a piece of that”…

    For all his technical innovations, I can’t help but remember Lotus’ financial “innovations” – Chapman should have joined Fred Bushell behind bars – kind of like most of the 2007-8 bankers.

  14. @ N. Weingart

    You are correct, Jim won the first race in the type 49 – Zanvoort 1967 and had a further 3 wins during that season – The British, Italian & Mexican GP’s. It was the first season for the Cosworth DFV.

    1968 was the true ’49’ season. JC won the first race at Kyalami, and the Tasman Series. A certain G Hill Wsq, won a further 3 races including the 4th of 5 his Monaco wins and a 49 won the British GP, but not a team car, a privately entered (rob Walker) 49 driven by Jo Siffert.

    The 49 gave another sadly missed river Jochen Rindt his first GP victory at Watkins Glen in 1969.

    In total the 49 took 12 wins, contributed to 2 driver and constructors’ world championships and was replaced by the Lotus 72 during 1970.

    JC won the 65 championship in the ’33, though won the French GP that year driving a ’25.

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