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The return of Lotus - the history of a legendary F1 name 16 Sep 2009

German GP, Nurburgring 6 August 1961 Stirling Moss wins in Lotus 18/21. World ©  Phipps/Sutton. Jim Clark (GBR) Lotus 33 returns to a joyous pits after winning for the first time that season and giving the BRM H16 engine its only victory. United States Grand Prix, Watkins Glen, 2 October 1966. World ©  Phipps/Sutton Race winner Jochen Rindt (AUT) Lotus 49B. United States Grand Prix, Watkins Glen, 5 October 1969. World ©  Phipps/Sutton (L to R): Race winner Emerson Fittipaldi (BRA) Lotus celebrates with Colin Chapman (GBR) Lotus Team Owner his fastest practice time on the Thursday with one of the 100 bottles of champagne presented to him by the Evening News. British Grand Prix, Brands Hatch, 17 July 1972. World © Phipps/Sutton Race winner Mario Andretti (USA) Lotus 79. French Grand Prix, Rd 9, Paul Ricard, France, 2 July 1978. World ©  Phipps/Sutton

2010 will see four new teams join the Formula One grid. Alongside Manor Grand Prix, Team US and Campos Meta, the revitalized paddock will also see one the sport’s most famous names return to the fold - Lotus, the result of a partnership between the Malaysian government and a consortium of Malaysian entrepreneurs.

For the first time in 15 years, the legendary moniker will once again grace the grid as the new team sets out to follow in the footsteps of the legendary original. With seven championships, 79 race wins and 107 pole positions, it remain one of the sport’s most successful constructors, having achieved glory with the likes of Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Ayrton Senna.

Set up almost six decades ago by Englishman Colin Chapman, with financial help from his fiancee Hazel, the Lotus Engineering Company started life in 1952 building lightweight sports cars to order. Five years later, the firm had constructed its first single-seater, the Type 12, for the Formula Two championship. After the car won the International Trophy at Silverstone, Chapman decided to take on Formula One racing.

Fitted with a more powerful 2.2-litre Coventry Climax engine, the Type 12 made its debut at the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix with Graham Hill and Cliff Allison at the wheel. After finishing the season (and scoring three world championship points), Lotus launched the Type 16 for 1959. The new model was more powerful, but hopelessly fragile, and gleaned just two more points than its predecessor.

In 1960, Chapman hit back with the innovative mid-engined Lotus 18. Although Stirling Moss clinched the car’s first victory in Monaco, it was for Rob Walker’s independent team and Lotus had to wait until Innes Ireland’s success at the 1961 United States Grand Prix to truly celebrate. The floodgates had opened, but it wouldn’t be until Jim Clark climbed into the cockpit that Lotus would really make their name.

Driving the Lotus 25 in 1963, Clark won seven of the season’s ten races and with it the title. Although the Scot fought hard to defend his crown a year later, he missed out, but returned stronger in ’65, dominating again with six race wins to take the championship. He also won the Indy 500. However, caught unawares by F1 racing’s upgrade to three-litre engines in 1966, Lotus struggled.

A change to the Keith Duckworth-designed Ford Cosworth engine in ’67 paid off and Clark won four races. Everything was set for the team to return to their title-winning ways in 1968, but in April, Clark was killed during a Formula Two race in Germany. Although team mate Hill would go on to championship glory in the Lotus 49, Chapman and his team were left devastated by their loss.

Drafting in Jochen Rindt to replace the much-missed Clark in 1970, Chapman made a wise move. Widely regarded as one of the quickest drivers in Formula One racing, Rindt did Chapman proud, dominating the season in the pioneering Lotus 72. He would go on to win a third world championship for the team, but the drivers’ title was bestowed on the Austrian posthumously, after he was killed during practice at Monza. It seemed as though Lotus successes would always be accompanied by crushing blows.

Brazilian Emerson Fittpaldi was hired to take Rindt’s place and clinched the drivers’ crown two seasons later in 1972. At 25, Fittipaldi became the youngest-ever world champion. The car too had adopted a new look - with the black and gold livery, inspired by its tobacco sponsor, John Player. Although the team took the constructors’ championship in 1973, and became the first F1 team to secure 50 victories, the Lotus 72 was starting to struggle and over the next few seasons wins became a rarity.

A revival in fortunes began with the introduction of the Lotus 78 for the 1977 season. Known as the ‘wing car’, the 78 was the first F1 machine to exploit the performance-enhancing benefits of ground-effect aerodynamics. But while it was fast - it won five Grands Prix - engine reliability often let the car down.

Even so, the team knew they were on to something, and continued to refine the concept into the 79, which to this day remains one of the most pioneering F1 cars ever built. Although it was only ready in time for the sixth round of the ’78 season, its potential was immediately obvious with American driver Mario Andretti taking pole and victory in Belgium. From there, Andretti and the 79 didn’t look back, with team and driver taking both titles. It was bittersweet, however, with Andretti’s team mate Ronnie Peterson getting embroiled in a fatal start-line incident at Monza.

Of course, the following season saw a whole host of 79 lookalikes on the grid. Unfortunately, the imitators had improved on the original, and Williams stole Lotus’ crown to take their first title. Bravely pushing on with their development programme, Lotus introduced the Lotus 80 and 88. However, the 80 model proved highly undriveable, with Andretti racking up just one race finish, whilst the all carbon-fibre 88 was banned.

In 1982, Lotus’s inspirational founder, Chapman, died aged 54 after a sudden heart attack. The team was devastated and never fully recovered from the loss of their lynchpin. Taken over by former Wolf and Fittipaldi team manager Peter Warr, Lotus struggled on through the eighties, and a series of flawed designs saw the team tumble down the order. Although the Renault-powered 94T helped Elio de Angelis to finish third in the 1984 standings, he didn’t win a single race.

The car’s successor, the 97T, enjoyed some solid results, with de Angelis winning in Italy and Ayrton Senna in Portugal and Belgium, but it was nothing like the glory days. They took third in the championship in 1986 and lost their long-term sponsor John Player before settling on a new deal with rival tobacco firm Camel. In ’87 there were new engines too, provided by Honda, which powered Senna to two wins and third in the standings. A season later, he moved to McLaren.

Fellow Brazilian, and reigning world champion, Nelson Piquet, replaced Senna but the results didn’t materialise. The Lotus 100T was a relative failure and in 1989 Honda jumped ship to be replaced by Judd engines instead. Further management changes and lacklustre results saw both Piquet and team mate Satoru Nakajima leave for pastures new. The team seemed to be spiralling ever downwards.

At the end of an unsuccessful 1990, Camel withdrew their sponsorship and former Lotus employees Peter Collins and Peter Wright took control. Mika Hakkinen was selected as the star driver and over the ’91 and ’92 seasons pulled out a few strong results including two fourth places. By then, however, the team was struggling for money and the Finn departed for McLaren in 1993.

British driver Johnny Herbert took over as lead driver. Although he took three fourth-place finishes, it was only enough to secure the team sixth in the standings and by the following year the team’s debts were getting out of control. Starting the season with their old car, every race was tough.

The new Lotus 109 arrived in time for the 1994 Italian Grand Prix, and Herbert promptly took fourth on the grid, but a first-lap collision with Jordan’s Eddie Irvine ended his race. It was a swansong of sorts for the once-great team, and the next day Collins put Lotus into administration. Herbert left immediately for Ligier and the team was sold in October to David Hunt, brother of 1976 drivers’ champion James.

Within two months, work was halted and the Lotus team folded. Over 15 years later, a new chapter in the Lotus-F1 history book begins. Although we’ll have to wait and see whether Malaysian backing and the experience of technical director Mike Gascoyne will pay off, the return of one of F1 racing’s most famous names is an exciting proposition indeed.