Legendary Lotus team set for comeback
Lotus is making a comeback at the Bahrain Grand Prix – a very fitting way to mark the 60th anniversary of the Formula 1 race. Ahead of its comeback, FRANCE24 takes a look back at the history of an iconic Formula 1 team.
Ahead of Lotus’s comeback at the Bahrain Grand Prix, FRANCE24 takes a look back at the history behind one of Formula 1’s most iconic teams.
In 1948, a Royal Air Force engineer called Colin Chapman built a sports car (MK1) using the shell of an Austin Seven. From this lowly beginning, the legendary Lotus brand was born.
In 1958, a decade after MK1’s launch, Lotus entered its first Formula 1 race. But after a lacklustre performance its driver, Graham Hill, abandoned Lotus in 1959.
The following year, Lotus followed in the footsteps of its rival, Cooper, and made a vehicle with its motor in the rear. This new model, dubbed the Lotus 18, was certainly not a looker but it performed beyond expectations. So much so, the private t Rob Walker Racing team acquired one such vehicle for its star driver, Stirling Moss.
The car and its driver proved a winning combination. In May 1960, Moss and his Lotus 18 won the Grand Prix in Monaco, and repeated the feat again in the USA later that year. This was a thorn in the side for Team Lotus, who were forced to witness another team win using its vehicle.
Stirling Moss won twice more in 1962, in Monaco and Nürburgring. But not until the end of that season, at the Grand Prix in the USA, would the official Lotus team win using its eponymous vehicle, with Scottish driver Innes Ireland behind the wheel.
Birth of a legend
At the beginning of the 1962 season, the young but promising Jim Clark became captain, marking the beginning of a golden era for Lotus. Clark perfected the technical finesse of his team in 1963, leading them on to seven out of 10 wins in the championship.
Despite a less impressive 1964 season, the team under Clark finished in second position in 1965. In 1967, Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus Cars, chose to hire two professional drivers for his team. Graham Hill, eight years after leaving the team, found himself once more behind the wheel of a Lotus.
The following year, Clark confirmed his supremacy by winning the Grand Prix in South Africa. But on April 7, the mythical Lotus driver met an untimely death in Hockenheim, in the early rounds of Formula 2.
The incident was devastating for Chapman. Worse still, Clark’s replacement, Mike Spence, would also lose his life on the track – this time at the Indy 500. Graham Hill did win his first title driving a Lotus in 1965, though at this point it was a half-hearted victory.
Lotus 72, the apple of Lotus’ eye
In 1969, true to his personal philosophy of perpetual innovation, Chapman made another breakthrough, with the integrated transmission engine. The first 4x4s did not fare well in Formula 1, but they nonetheless established Lotus as a pioneer in the field of sports cars.
Chapman was a visionary. In 1970, he created a single-seater that transformed auto design in sports cars. After a mediocre season debut, Team Lotus trotted out its now legendary 72 model. With this revolutionary model, the young Austrian Jochen Rindt, who replaced the ageing Hill, took the team on to four consecutive Grand Prix victories.
But Rindt’s golden age came to a sudden end when a mechanical failure caused a fatal accident. Another tragedy for Lotus.
In the following decade, Chapman continued to reinvent the Lotus, keeping it ahead of the curve year after year.
However, such innovation came at a price, and the company started to lose money hand over fist in the 1990s.
Fifteen years after retiring from the track, the Lotus is now back, although this time the car is under Malaysian ownership.
In September 2009, the authorities of Kuala Lumpur decided to form a team called Lotus F1 for the Formula 1 2010 championship to promote Malaysia’s national car brand, the Proton – the company that has owned 80% of Lotus since 1996.
The team, which is based in Norfolk in the UK, has some pretty big shoes to fill.