Over the course of time there have been many teams that raced the hallowed circuits of Formula 1. A multitude of drivers, mechanics, and manufacturers have chased the dream that is Grand Prix racing. None, however, have exhibited the vision, or contributed to the innovation of racing, quite like Lotus. The Lotus F1 team, from its very conception, were the visionaries. They were the ones that saw not what was, but what could and would be and in so doing launched Formula 1 into the future. Here is the history of Lotus in F1.
Team Lotus was founded by the unquestionably brilliant Colin Chapman. Chapman was an engineer at heart and had a passion for utilizing the lightest weight materials he could find, relying on his vast knowledge of aircraft and aeronautical engineering to make his race cars fast. In 1958 at the famed Grand Prix of Monaco, Lotus made their debut with the legendary Graham Hill and Cliff Allison driving for the team. The team did not win, but the innovation and style of the car caused a murmur of interest and in 1961, when Innes Ireland garnered the team their first win, no one was surprised.
In 1963 Jim Clark joined the team and earned them an incredible seven wins and a title that season. It was the beginning of an era for Lotus and the 1963 title was to be the first of seven Constructors’ titles that the team would win. Clark and Lotus were a natural fit; the talented driver and innovative team worked together seamlessly. Clark would go on to win two titles for the team, being the only driver to do so in the iconic green livery of the Lotus stable. His was the most famous of the driver pairings, although other famed drivers, including Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi, and Mario Andretti would go on to bring home championships for the team.
By the 1970s big sponsorship had come to Formula 1 and the famed green livery was gone, replaced by the black, gold, and red of the John Player Special car. The colour had little effect on the success of the cars, however, and due largely to their ground breaking engineering, including Chapman’s fondness for aerodynamics, the cars continued to win. Race after race, Lotus thundered around the track, their technology light years ahead of their competitors.
Innovation, however, does not come without cost. Mario Andretti was often heard joking that Chapman wanted his cars to finish and then break just across the finish line. In the pursuit of lighter, faster cars and new technology there was a price to be paid and wrecks were not uncommon for Lotus, or any other team of that era. The death of Jochen Rindt was particularly hard on the team, especially as it followed the death of Jim Clark two years earlier in a Formula 2 race. Rindt is the only driver to posthumously win a Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship.
Colin Chapman died in December of 1982 and Peter Warr took over his beloved racing team. Warr, however, was not the engineer that Chapman was and after several designs proved to be unsuccessful the team began to struggle. It was not until Nigel Mansell left the team, and Ayrton Senna joined it, that Lotus began to be a solid F1 contender again. They still struggled but were able, in 1986, to move past Ferrari to take third in the Constructors’ Championship. By the time Senna left Lotus for McLaren the team again was battling to keep their head above water. The less powerful, normally aspirated V8 Hondas were brilliant competitors and Lotus found themselves unable to fight them off.
In 1989 a new Team Lotus was revealed. Mika Hakkinen and Julian Bailey were signed as drivers for the owners, Peter Collins and Peter Wright. In 1991 the first double points since 1988 were earned and the team seemed to be getting back on its feet. After going through several drivers, including Alex Zanardi, Pedro Lamy and Johnny Herbert the team once again found that debts were growing and success was not. Team Lotus, as the fans knew it, left racing in 1994 after a painfully unsuccessful Australian Grand Prix.
2010, however, saw a resurrection of Lotus. David Hunt, brother of Champion James Hunt, owned the rights to the name Team Lotus and when, in 2009 the FIA said they would be interested in budget limited entries for the championship for 2010, Hunt stepped forward. Lotus Motorcars stepped back, baulking at the idea. On September 24, 2010 it was announced that Tony Fernandes had acquired the name rights of Team Lotus from Hunt and the official rebirth of the team came into being. There was much wrangling over the name of the team, yet plans to proceed with racing continued. Renault then partnered with the phoenix-like team and on December 23, 2010 the Chapman family released a statement that they backed Group Lotus and they preferred the name Team Lotus did not make a return to racing.
From there, the Lotus F1 team has not looked back. They hired Finn Kimi Raikkonen and Frenchman Romain Grosjean and found their way to the top of the podium with the talented Raikkonen. The team and Kimi had a parting of the ways, however, after a dispute rumoured to have to do with lack of payment to the driver. In 2014, Raikkonen went to Ferrari and Lotus hired Pastor Maldonado to drive next to Grosjean. The team struggled through the 2014 season: the changes the FIA laid proved to be a challenge for the team. In 2015, however, they have seem to be finding their way, consistently fast in practice and qualifying, with a run of bad luck during races. While the history of Lotus in Formula 1 is a tumultuous one, the team now looks forward with optimism as they carry a legend into the future.