Arguably the most innovative team in Formula One history, Lotus established itself in the 1950s by building simple, lightweight sportscars with sublime handling. They stuck with that same philosophy as they became the dominant force in grand prix racing in the 1960s and 70s, and had many of racing’s greatest champions pilot their machines.
"He was the computer. If the car wasn’t handling well on the Friday, he would go back to the garage and call the mechanics. By Saturday morning the car would be fantastic. Only Colin Chapman could do that. He was a genius.”
- Emerson Fittipaldi
Team founder Colin Chapman was an ingenious engineer who experimented with lightweight materials and relied heavily on his knowledge of aeronautical engineering, which he had gained while in the Royal Air Force.
Lotus entered its first F1 race at Monaco in 1958, with Graham Hill and Cliff Allison driving. A victory of sorts came the following year with Stirling Moss in a customer Lotus, but the works Lotus team waited until 1961 when Innes Ireland earned the Norfolk-based gang their first win.
The team recruited ace Scottish driver Jim Clark, and he took them to a remarkable seven wins in 1963, earning the team’s first title. It was to be the first of seven constructors’ titles.
Few champions are remembered as fondly as Jim Clark – Lotus’ most successful driver. He was a reluctant racer - shy of the attention his success brought him - but he was one of the most naturally gifted drivers the sport has ever seen. When he was taken at the age of 32, motor racing was rocked to its core. If it could happen to Jimmy, they said, it could happen to anyone.
Clark was the only driver to win two Drivers’ titles in a Lotus. Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti took one title each.
Soon the cars’ iconic green livery with a yellow stripe gave way to sponsorship. Lotus were the first F1™ team to receive commercial support, in the form of its red, white and gold ‘Gold Leaf’ branded cars in 1968.
In the 1970s Lotus’s black and gold John Player Special cars continued to win, thanks to their ground-breaking aerodynamics and fearless drivers.
Colin Chapman died before his time from a heart attack in 1982, aged 54. The team’s management was thereafter overseen by fellow Englishman Peter Warr.
In the 1980s, Lotus’s performance was less consistent, despite Ayrton Senna taking an epic 15 pole positions from 32 races between 1985 and 1986. At the end of the decade, their cars were not a success and the engines underpowered.
In 1994 debts caught up with them and while Lotus continued to race in other categories, their F1 era seemed to be at an end.
Yet in 2010, Group Lotus granted a licence to a Malaysian consortium to compete in Formula One as Lotus Racing. The following year, determined that the Lotus brand be competing on track with its showroom rivals – McLaren and Ferrari – Group Lotus took on the title sponsorship of the Renault team, which had already secured seven world titles from its base in Enstone, Oxfordshire. For 2012 the partnership with shareholders Genii has gone further and the chassis name has changed to ‘Lotus’.
Formula One was once again reunited with the works Lotus team and, racing in the iconic black and gold livery of the 1970s, Kimi Räikkönen – 2007 world champion and himself a bit of a throwback to the 1970s – alongside Romain Grosjean, set about restoring Lotus to the front of the grid, finding victory at last in the 2012 Abu Dhabi GP in November.
For the 2013 season, the Lotus F1 Team retain both Räikkönen and Grosjean. Kimi Raikkonen opened up the season with a driver's victory winning the Australian GP in March from seventh on the grid.