Lotus goes to the wire: Fate may ride on finish in Portugal

THE BRITISH motor racing legend Lotus will be fighting for its life at the Portuguese Grand Prix today. The team, placed in receivership on 12 September after its last race, desperately needs a strong finish on the track to justify keeping it in the game at all.

Lotus's three main sources of income - sponsorship, television royalties and prize money - are all linked to race performance. Another failure will put pressure on the receiver, Neil Cooper, to sell or liquidate the team - mired in debts of pounds 10m.

Financial details of the Formula One teams are closely guarded secrets. Some, such as Williams-Renault and Benetton, are owned by manufacturers willing to underwrite almost any expense and are rumoured to have budgets as high as pounds 50m. Others continue because their drivers are rich enough to pay the bills.

'But most motor racing teams live in a hand-to-mouth fashion,' Mr Cooper said.

The team gets most of its income from sponsors such as Pepe Jeans, Air UK and Goodyear. Lotus negotiates some of the deals directly, but a significant portion were brought to the team by Alessandro Zanardi, its number two driver. Johnny Herbert, its star driver, probably takes between pounds 500,000 and pounds 750,000 from the team, plus whatever he can get for wearing corporate logos on his helmet and overalls. Some drivers earn as much as pounds 6m.

'Sponsors like to back successful teams,' Mr Cooper said. 'After a couple of years of indifferent performance, you can't get enough to support you.'

The shortfall can only be made up from prize money and a share of the television income. Both are controlled by the Formula One Constructors' Association. FOCA is the only major sports organisation that does not reveal the size of its purses. Nor does it say how much it gets from broadcasters in the 105 countries where the 16 races are aired live to an audience of 20 million.

Observers say the FOCA kitty is distributed on a steep curve. Teams that often see the checkered flag get the lion's share. Those that regularly finish at the back of the pack receive a pittance. FOCA also covers travel expenses but, again, winners get much more than losers. In its glory years, that was not a problem for Lotus. It won almost one in six of the 486 grand prix races it entered after its founder, the late engineering genius Colin Chapman, took it into Formula One in 1958. The team picked up the drivers' championship trophy six times, and the constructors' prize seven times. But in the past seven years, it has failed to win a race.

Although it fielded many brilliant drivers, the team's successes were built on technological innovation. Under Mr Chapman it was the first to introduce stressed skin monocoque, a technique borrowed from aircraft design, to replace the old spaceframe chassis.

In the late 1960s, a Lotus 49 triumphed with a stressed crankcase that doubled as the rear half of the chassis. In the 1970s the team pioneered ground effect designs that use air pressure to suck a car closer to the track. If Lotus returns to the winner's stand today it will be due to a new Mugen-Honda V10 engine that in practice runs on Friday cut three seconds off the car's average lap time.

The engine is lighter and more powerful than its predecessor and has a lower centre of gravity, which gives the car better handling and grip.

The Mugen-Honda engine made its first appearance in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza on 11 September. It helped Lotus to capture a second-row starting position during qualifying rounds, an advantage that evaporated when Herbert was clipped on the tricky first turn during the opening lap.

Today's event will be closely watched by Mr Cooper, a racing fan, and his colleagues at Robson Rhodes, and the results will be a factor in whether they recommend the firm be refinanced, sold or broken up. The receivers are due in court in a month and will present a plan two months later to creditors, notably Landhurst Leasing and Challenger Investments.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'