It started with a loan of £25 and grew to dominate Formula One. Derick Allsop on the Lotus magic
Wednesday 18 January 1995
Such a magical name, Lotus was the car of every aspiring driver's dreams. However, suggestions that the team may return next year, or some time, after taking time out this season to regroup and rebuild, may be one fantasy too many. Lotus, probably the greatest marque in British racing history, were effectively withdrawn from the 1995 Formula One world championship yesterday, victims of an unequal financial struggle and what became, for them, an unequal struggle on the track.
David Hunt's attempts to find a rescue package in time to keep the Lotus Grand Prix team and 60 staff in business finished in failure and disappointment. By then, those employees were resigned to hearing the worst.
Lotus had found themselves in the classic Catch-22 situation: without success they could no longer generate funds and without funds they could no longer generate success.
Sad though it is to record the team's demise, it might have been even sadder to see them stumble on, dropping further and further to the back of the grid until finally they fell off it. That was not the Lotus of all those dreams, the Lotus Colin Chapman introduced, nurtured and inspired.
Chapman's Lotus set the pace and standards for the rest. They won seven constructors' championships between 1963 and 1978. His innovation in car design, such as ground effect, and in sponsorship took Formula One across new frontiers. And he also had someof the sports greatest drivers. Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti were his world champions.
Chapman's last recruit was Nigel Mansell. Ayrton Senna joined the team after the boss died, but here was another driver in the Chapman mould: a committed racer, a winner, a champion.
Chapman founded Lotus in 1952, with £25 he borrowed from his future wife, and produced trendy sports cars. In later years he wheeled his first grand prix car on to the world championship stage at Monaco. One of his drivers, Cliff Allison, was classified sixth. The other had a less productive race but his day would come. He was Graham Hill.
Stirling Moss, representing Rob Walker's team, drove the first Lotus to victory, again at Monaco, two years later. Chapman's first driver to take the chequered flag was Innes Ireland, in the 1961 United States Grand Prix, but that Scot no longer figured in the plans of the ruthless entrepreneur.
By then Chapman had taken on a young, shy, Borders farmer, and together they would dominate Formula One. Jim Clark established a record of 25 grand prix victories, all in a Lotus, and won the world title in 1965 and 1967. He was the overwhelming favourite for the championship again in 1968, but was killed in a Formula Two race at Hockenheim. Chapman was devastated, yet Hill took up the cause and delivered the crown.
Tragedy was to strike Lotus again in 1970, when their Austrian driver, Jochen Rindt, died at Monza. Such was his lead in the championship, however, he won the title posthumously.
Some of Chapman's critics claimed his designs paid too little heed to driver safety, but his ambition was undiminished. He had decided to fund this phase of his development programme with tobacco sponsorship. The rest, on that front, we know about.
Fittipaldi, driving for Lotus, became, at the age of 25, the youngest world champion in 1972. Andretti, in 1978, gave the team what was to be their last drivers' title.
The other teams adopted Chapman's methods, enhanced them and gradually overtook Lotus. When Chapman died, of a heart attack, at the age of 54, in December, 1982, Lotus were already in decline.
Those loyal to the old master, including Mansell, maintain Lotus would have reclaimed their place at the forefront of Formula One with Chapman in command.
They did win races again, but not with Mansell at the wheel. He would find fulfilment at Williams, leaving a young, serious, single-minded Brazilian to lead Lotus' challenge through the mid-Eighties.
Senna had his first grand prix win driving a Lotus, a magnificent performance through the rain in Portugal, in 1985. He also gave Lotus their 79th and final win, at Detroit, in 1987. Those involved with the team then admit Senna's brilliance enabled themto overachieve in that period. He departed, for McLaren, in 1988 and went on to win three championships. Lotus went backwards.
The team's latest tobacco sponsors were also to move on, the money began to run out and so did time. Ah, the cruel irony.
Peter Collins' valiant efforts briefly revived hope, but this was a false dawn. The anticipated backing was not forthcoming, Lotus were burdened by huge debts and their affairs were handed over to a court- appointed administrator. Hunt's intervention heralded another reprieve, and he contends the fight is not over yet.
The name may yet be transferred to another team, but that would not be the team from Ketteringham Hall, that stately old place lost in a timewarp. Just like Lotus.
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