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A history of Team Lotus.

Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman was born in London on 19th May 1928, the son of a hotelier. He studied structural engineering at University, graduating with a degree in 1948. After a brief career as a flying officer in the RAF, Colin set up a car dealership with a friend. In those early postwar years, cars were rare, so the dealership was highly successful. Colin demonstrated a rare ability to apply himself totally to any subject and learn it almost instantly. He famously taught himself accountancy in a weekend after he realised it would be beneficial, and read every book he could get on aerodynamics before starting out on design of his first car.

However, Colin realised that to really make an impact it would be better to develop specialist cars for a wide range of people. To this end in 1948, he built the Mk1, based on a modified Austin 7 chassis with lightened body panels which he entered privately into local racing events. For reasons he never explained he called it a Lotus. The competition sat up and took notice of the strange little car with it's serious but intelligent driver. With prize money won he developed the Lotus Mk2. With continuing success on through the Mk6, he began to sell kits of these cars to his interested parties. On January 1st 1952, Colin used a loan of 25 from his future wife Hazel to set up Lotus Engineering Ltd in a disused carpet factory in Hornsey.

It was with the Mk7 in 1957 that things really took off, and indeed Caterham Cars still manufacture a version of that car today. This was also the first instance of product placement for Lotus, when a Lotus 7 was used by Patrick McGoohan in his quirky series, The Prisoner. Among a number of legendary automotive figures who have been Lotus employees over the years were Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth, founders of Cosworth.

It was with Costin that Chapman had his first F1 design experience. Tony Vandervell wanted to beat 'those bloody red cars' and hired Chapman and Costin to design an F1 car that would do just that. While Costin handled the aerodynamics, Chapman worked on the chassis design of the Vanwall that appeared in 1957. The car went on to win the 1958 Constructors' Championship in the hands of Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks, the first year that championship was run.

In the 1950s Chapman progressed through the motor racing formulae, designing and building a series of racing cars, sometimes to the point of being in limited production they were so successful and highly sought after, until he arrived in Formula 1. At the same time, Lotus was now involved in sportscar racing, entering the Le Mans 24 Hour race with Cliff Allison driving a Lotus Elite. In 1957, the Elite finished first in class and won the Index of Performance, the first major victory for Lotus, but Colin continued to pursue F1. His first F1 car, the 16, was a lightweigh and innovative design. It featured a tubular spaceframe chassis with the engine mounted behind the front axle improving weight distribution. The car was driven by a former Lotus mechanic turned driver called Graham Hill who became a works driver.

Along with John Cooper, he revolutionised the premier motor sport. Their small, lightweight mid-engined vehicles gave away much in terms of power, but superior handling meant their competing cars often beat the all-conquering front engined Ferraris and Maseratis. Chapman's next effort was the nimble little Lotus 18, the first mid engined car Lotus produced. It too was sold to privateer teams, and the great Stirling Moss took Lotus first victory in F1 at the 1960 Monaco Grand Prix.

Chapman continued to strive for technical excellence and light weight. His next design was a revolution that can still be seen in modern F1 designs, the monocoque Lotus 25. With legendary driver Jim Clark at the wheel, the 25 won Team Lotus it's first F1 World Championship in 1963. It was Clark, driving a Lotus 38 at the Indianapolis 500 in 1965, who drove the first ever mid-engined car to victory at the fabled "Brickyard." Colin was the force who brought Ford into F1 in 1967, and it was he who designed a car able to use the new engine to it's fullest. The Lotus 49 was another innovative design, the engine being built into the car as a stressed load bearing part. It was also the first F1 car to use aerofoil wings. Chapman had realised that to gain better speed, the use of inverted aeroplane wings would be a good solution. The car took 4 wins in it's first season and Clark seemed to be on course for the world championship in 1968, but fate stepped in and Jim was tragically killed in an F2 race in Germany. Graham Hill stepped up and took the world championship that year.

Chapman, who came from relatively humble roots, was also a businessman, who began the process which changed Formula One from rich gentlemen's pastime, to multi-million pound high technology environment. It was Chapman who introduced high profile sponsorship to the sport, when he signed a deal with Gold Leaf cigarettes for the 1968 season. It was Chapman who in 1966 persuaded the Ford Motor Company to sponsor Cosworth's development of what would become the legendary DFV race engine. This was not Lotus' first involvement with Ford. Lotus had developed the Ford Cortina into the Ford Lotus Cortina for saloon car racing and rallying. The Lotus Cortina won the 1963 and 1964 British Touring Car Championship and Jim Clark used one to compete in the 1966 RAC Rally of Great Britain.

At the same time, the Lotus roadcar business was doing well, with sales of the Lotus 7 going strong, and the mid engined Lotus Europa providing a cheaper and faster alternative to the Lamborghini Miura and Maserati Bora. More exposure for Lotus was provided by the little Lotus Elan, which was featured in The Avengers. With the continuing success of the F1 team and the road car business going strong, Chapman took the decision to move the whole Lotus organisation to Hethel in Norfolk, which was a former WWII airfield for the USAAF and RAF. The team took up Ketteringham Hall as their administrative base for both Group Lotus and Team Lotus and the airfield was converted into a private test track whilst the former hangars were turned into the Lotus workshops and factory.

However, the Lotus story is only half told until Jim Clark is brought into the picture. Chapman first met Clark at a race at Brands Hatch on Boxing day in 1958, and Chapman was impressed enough with the young Scotsman to keep an eye on his career. After Aston Martin decided not to go into F1, Chapman snapped Clark up and two formed an almost unbeatable combination. Many drivers have won driving a Lotus, but many Lotus wins came about only because Clark was driving one. The relationship between Chapman and Clark was such that Jim never drove for any other team throughout his F1 career. He recognised Chapman's genius as a designer and engineer, and Chapman was astute enough to appreciate Clark's talent as a driver but wasn't over-awed by him. Clark won 25 races and two world titles for the team; his amassed points took home the constructor's championship twice during his winning seasons. Not only was Clark successful in F1, but also in Indycar, touring cars and sportscars for Lotus. Chapman was devastated by the death of Clark saying at the time 'I've lost my best friend.'


After Clark's tragic death, Graham Hill who had returned to Lotus the previous year led the team to yet another drivers' and constructors' championship double before he was joined by fiery Austrian Jochen Rindt. Rindt and Chapman had a famously stormy relationship but were able to get the best out of each other. After the Lotus 63 four wheel drive project testbed was a faliure, Chapman came up with perhaps his most famous design, the stunning wedge shaped Lotus 72 for Rindt to drive in the 1970 season. It's fair to say that all modern F1 cars take design inspiration from this car.

Rindt used the remarkable car to take the 1970 world championship, but was the second Lotus team leader in two years to be killed at the wheel of a Lotus, when in practice for the Italian Grand Prix, the left front brakes failed and the 72 was slammed into the guard rails at the fastest part of the track. Jochen didn't stand a chance.

At the same time, the world was going through an energy crisis, and the supercars of the early '70's were clearly unefficient. Lotus' answer was to use the same innovation it had had with it's F1 cars and it's earlier road cars, and they introduced their most successful and long lived automobile. The Lotus Esprit was designed by Guigiaro and was introduced in 1975. With it's 2 litre engine and lightweight plastic body, it was a revelation, but early reliability was suspect, with many owners claiming Lotus stood for Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious! The car provided yet more product placement when the Esprit was used in the Bond films The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only. The Esprit that appeared in The Spy Who Loved Me was actually Colin Chapman's own car.

The Gold Leaf sponsorship was replaced by John Player Special for 1972, and the Lotus 72 was repainted in the stunning black and gold livery. The increase in sponsorship money helped the team to develop the car and Emerson Fittipaldi and Ronnie Peterson used the newer version to win in 3 consecutive seasons, before the 72 was retired at the end of the 1975 season. The competition had now overtaken Lotus in the technology race and the team was outclassed.

Chapman, with his reputation for innovation realised he had to come up with something that would take Lotus not just level with the competition but far ahead of them. After a brainstorming session at the beginning of 1976, he wrote a 27 page document which he handed to his design team headed by Peter Wright. This was to prove to be one of the great technological breakthroughs in F1 car design.

Putting it as simply as possible, ground effect is the art of using the undercar airflow to increase grip in cornering and braking. Shaping the underbody of the car like an inverted aeroplane wing, ground effect is a low drag alternative to conventional wings. Chapman used his experiences in the RAF to the fullest to produce arguable the finest cars his team had ever built, the Lotus 78 and 79. With the driving talent of Mario Andretti who could develop the car and Ronnie Peterson who could use the car to it's best, Chapman had his best car and team since Clark, Hill and the Lotus 49. Colin said his relationship with Mario both personally and professionally was the best he had with any driver except Jim Clark.

The 1978 season was a walkover for Lotus, who won 9 races but ended in tragedy as Peterson, the fastest driver in Formula 1 was killed in a startline crash at Monza, ironically the race that Andretti wrapped up the championship at.

The Lotus 80 and 88, which were attemptes to take ground effect to a remarkably high level were faliures, but the team bounced back with the Lotus 91, the first carbon fibre chassis in Formula 1. The car also featured the next Lotus innovation: active suspension, a computer controlled system that allowed the car to remain stable in corners and even on bumpy tracks. Elio De Angelis took the car to victory at the 1982 Austrian Grand Prix.

Then came the hardest test Lotus ever had to face. Colin Chapman, the teams founder died from a heart attack on December 15th 1982. It could be said the heart of the team was gone and Peter Warr, Chapman's right hand man was left to pick up the pieces and manage the team. At the time of his death, Chapman was reportedly caught up in the John Z. DeLorean scandal (Lotus was providing technical assistance in the design of the DeLorean DMC-12), and although his involvement in it was never fully revealed it's possible he could have had criminal proceedings brought against him.

Warr managed to pull the team together and negotiated a deal with Renault for use of the massively powerful 1500cc turbo engine. Along with the engines came talented designer Gerard Ducourouge, who penned a series of effective cars for the team in the mid 80's. Lotus was the first of the FOCA teams along with Brabham to use turbo engines which put them at loggerheads with the other teams loyal to the Formula One Constructors' Association during the FISA/FOCA disputes which threatened Formula 1 in the early 1980's. At one time Jean Marie Balestre, head of the FISA tried to have Chapman placed as head of FOCA, in a move to unsettle Bernie Ecclestone but this never came to pass.

Such was the promise shown by the new cars that it was enough to convince Ayrton Senna to join the team for 1985, replacing Nigel Mansell. Mansell and Peter Warr never saw eye to eye, and Warr was keen to replace the driver who he saw as an 'underachieving whinger.' Senna partnered De Angelis, and Lotus returned to the competitiveness of the '60's and '70's, with Lotus challenging strongly for the drivers' and constructors' championships. For 1987, Ducourouge designed the smart Lotus 99T with engines supplied by Honda, in exchange for Lotus's second driver being Japanese. The deal was done and Saturo Nakajima became Senna's team mate. After another season of competitiveness, Senna left to join McLaren and he was replaced by new world champion Nelson Piquet, but the fire was starting to go out for the team. The banning of the turbo engines for 1989 meant a drop in performance and Lotus was uncompetitive for the next three seasons as it struggled to match the opposition.

By the time Lotus reached the 1992 season, their morale was at a low ebb, Warr had been replaced by Peter Collins, and the car was clearly well behind it's rivals. However, a new car, and new Ford engines helped Lotus become competitive again. Johnny Herbert and Mika Hakkinen were able to string solid results with the Lotus 107 throughout '92 and '93, before the team finally closed it's doors at the end of 1994 after lack of sponsorship and mounting debt thwarted any further challenge.
The Team Lotus brand was sold to David Hunt, brother of 1976 F1 champion James at the beginning of 1995. He put together a deal for Lotus to provide technical assistance to the Pacific F1 team during the season, but Pacific folded towards the end of the year.
Another attempt to revive Lotus was in 2003 when head of Prodrive and team principle of BAR Honda F1, Dave Richards sought to rename the team 'Lotus Prodrive.' This was blocked by Hunt and the FIA, but BAR was eventually bought out by Honda in 2005, becoming Honda F1.
At the same time, Lotus road cars introduced the fabulous Elise, a nimble and extremely light roadster that has proved very popular. Featuring a revolutionary bonded chassis and mid-engined layout the Elise is still in production as both the Elise S and the Exige, it's hardtop stablemate. The Lotus Esprit ceased production in 2004, but a replacement is sceduled for a 2008 launch. In the meantime Lotus intends to introduce the Exige's big brother, the Europa S in 2007.

Team Lotus lives on however, for at the old Lotus headquarters in Hethel, Norfolk, a team of specialists and volunteers keep the legend alive. Classic Team Lotus has many examples of F1, sportscars, roadcars and the 1965 Indy 500 winner and keep them in working order for fans to enjoy. The Lotus Roadcar division is now owned by Proton after passing through the hands of General Motors and for a brief period, Ford. In 2006, Lotus will revive the Europa name for it's new sports saloon.