Lotus founder Colin Chapman was the greatest inventor Formula One has ever seen. Modern regulations have seen some of his contributions cast into the history books, but many of his innovations live on, 30 years after his death.
Lotus pioneered the use of struts as a rear suspension device. Even today, these struts are known as ‘Chapman struts’, while those developed for the front are virtually identical.
Though first used on the Lancia Lambda in 1922, unibody technology was an idea Colin Chapman had from his previous life in the aerospace industry. By replacing the separate body and frame (or spaceframe) components with a single-shell, or monocoque, the chassis was both lighter and stiffer. It was much faster and also stronger in the event of a crash. The 1962 Lotus 25 was therefore a milestone. It was three times stronger than the previous Lotus 21 and weighed half as much.
The 1967 Lotus 49 was the first car to feature its engine as a structural member, bolted to the monocoque at one end and the suspension and gearbox at the other. Since then, virtually all F1 cars have been built this way.
The 1967 Lotus 49 was the first car to be powered by the Cosworth DFV, which went on to win more races than any other engine to date. In fact, the DFV (which stood for ‘Double Four-Valve’) went on to achieve 12 drivers’ championships and ten constructors’ titles, plus ten Indy 500 winners. The powerplant had been designed by two former Lotus engineers, Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth. Cosworth are still present in F1 today.
In 1968 Lotus introduced positive aerodynamic downforce with the addition of front and rear wings to the 49B. Early efforts were mounted 3 feet (0.91 m) or so above the car, in order to operate in 'clean air' (i.e. air that would not otherwise be disturbed by the passage of the car). However the thin supporting struts failed regularly, obliging the FIA to require the wings to be attached directly to the bodywork.
Lotus originated the movement of radiators away from the front of the car, to decrease frontal area and, thus, drag at speed.
Before Lotus ran advertising on its car at the 1968 Monaco Grand Prix, no one had considered the car’s body could be used as a rolling billboard. Lotus set the standard for slick presentation and corporate communication that would become the blueprint for Formula One in later decades.
Lotus discovered back in 1978 that by shaping the underside of the car, they could accelerate the air passing under it, thereby reducing the air pressure under the car relative to that over it and pushing the tyres down harder to the track.