Max Power: 640 bhp @ 9800 rpm, Max Torque: 450 Nm @ 7600 rpm, Max Engine Revs: 10,300 rpm normal running,
Fuel Rating: 101 RON, Unladen Vehicle Mass: 650 kg.
As an experience – euphorically and financially – it ranks alongside Richard Branson’s proposed Virgin Galactic space flights. The difference here is that you’re behind the wheel, and you’re all alone.
Well, not completely alone. Driving the Lotus Type 125 takes a bit of getting used to, and Lotus is there to help owners get the most out of themselves and the car. By placing an order for the Type 125 not only do you get a 560kg 640bhp state-of-the-art machine, you also get some very famous mentors: Formula One legends Jean Alesi and Nigel Mansell.
It’s a bit like joining a golf club and your caddy turns out to be Nick Faldo.
Or, if we’re to compare it to a gentlemen’s club – for this is one of the most elite members clubs imaginable – it’s like walking into a drawing room to find Hugh Hefner and Noel Coward at the bar. Except here everyone’s clad in Nomex, not silk pajamas.Only around ten Type 125s are likely to be built by Lotus each year so, technically, there are fewer seats than in F1-proper. It’s also – going by the average ‘pay driver’ rate this season – considerably cheaper.
The car needed to be designed to give a breathless and authentic Formula One experience while being forgiving, safe, reliable and possible for a mere mortal to drive. After all, few of the Type 125’s millionaire owners will be professional racing drivers with torsos the shape of Toblerone.
Jean Alesi headed up the car’s on-track development from the start.
“Every Formula One driver arrives in the sport with a lot of experience, they’re very fit and thin. Most normal people couldn’t even fit in an F1 car let alone drive it. It can be very difficult.
The Type 125 gives you all the fun of an F1 car, but without the pain. It is still very physical, but it is easier to control and with a bigger cockpit. It is also easier to maintain, and you don’t need a crew of a dozen people to start it up and keep it running like you do in a grand prix. Instead, the Type 125 is started at the touch of a button. All of this, I said from the very beginning, would be very important for our customers.”
The project has been in development for a couple of years now, as Alesi and his team have honed the car’s dynamic elements to fulfill their target attributes.
In September 2011 Group Lotus sent the car to Enstone, the headquarters of its F1 team, for its final phase of development. Romain Grosjean put the Type 125 through its paces at Portugal’s Portimao circuit in November as engineers honed the car’s characteristics and performance envelope to replicate those of a current generation Formula One beast, while keeping it safe, approachable and reliable for Lotus’s private customers.
“The idea was to bring the car as close as possible to F1 level,” explains GP2 champion Romain, who’s been promoted to an F1 race seat in 2012 with Lotus. “We needed a car that was close to the lap time of a Formula One car, but that was also easy to drive. We achieved a strong level of performance and sensation, but it is not too hard or too on-the-limit to drive which is important. We did a lot of laps during our three-day test and we had no reliability issues at all. Everything worked perfectly.”
Inside and out of the cockpit, the Type 125 is hard to differentiate from Romain and Kimi Raikkonen’s 2012 office. Enstone added a huge amount of downforce to the car – more than F1 rules allow – largely aided by a dustbin-sized rear diffuser, and they took out extra weight. “Some things were quite funny,” recalls Romain from the Portimao test, “like the auto clutch the car has for when you leave the garage and the option of auto up-shift, which seemed odd the first time I used it – a bit like a computer game – but it works well.”
Enstone also worked on build quality, something an F1 team knows more about than any other industry. The Type 125’s 640bhp 3.5 litre Cosworth V8 engine – much like the one used in IndyCar - is linked to a six-speed gearbox with paddle shift. The car’s featherweight 560kg results in a phenomenal power-to-weight of nearly 1000bhp per tonne. “That’s more than enough,” confirms Alesi. “It is much faster than the Formula One cars I drove in the 1990s.”
For those with the means, the Type 125 is the chance to put themselves in the fireproof shoes of heroes like Mansell and Alesi, and to be coached by them. And with the practical aspects the car benefits from, they’ll be able to enjoy it beyond even Michael Schumacher’s retirement age. Whatever that may be.