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).
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.