If at first . . .
Last month we dealt in some detail with the conception of the Lotus 88, its reception by rival teams and its subsequent banning by officialdom and the various decisions taken by committees, tribunals, judges and so on. We concluded by saying “But we have not heard the last from the men at Kettering Hall”. And so it has proved.
Firstly Chapman looked closely into the wording of the Formula One Regulations, as laid down in the ‘”Concorde Agreement” to which all the people in Formula One agreed last winter. Under the list of definitions there is no mention of the word “chassis”, though the word is used in the rules on Safety Structures. Similarly the phrase “sprung part of the car” is used in the rules about aerodynamic devices, but there is no definition of “sprung part”, nor is there a definition of “entirely sprung part” anywhere in the rule book. In the initial announcement of the Lotus 88 the car was described as having a primary chassis and a secondary chassis, and this set off a lot of red herrings and muddled decisions over what constituted a chassis, while the use of the word chassis in the singular or the plural caused more confusion.
Now Chapman has started all over again and described the Lotus 88 as being chassis-less, saying instead that it comprises two sprung structures, an inner and an outer. The inner sprung structure carries the driver, the fuel, the engine and the transmission; the outer sprung structure carries the coachwork and the aerodynamic devices; it also carries the all-important underside of the coachwork, but that is not mentioned, it being included in the word coachwork! Some rather muddled conclusions deemed the Lotus 88 to be illegal, so the Lotus lads have made some detail changes to the positioning of radiators and the cockpit fairing and have announced the Lotus 88B. With a view to running the revised car in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Team Lotus invited the RAC Scrutineers to Hethel to view the car as if it was being presented for scrutineering before practice. The race regulations state that cars must be scrutineered and passed before they will be allowed out to practice, but it does not say they cannot be scrutineered well before the event. So the RAC Scrutineers inspected the Lotus 88B, bearing in mind that it has two sprung structures, an inner and an outer, and both structures comply totally with the requirements on all counts. They are rigid and are suspended on spring units. What happens to those spring units does not enter into the matter. People have suggested that aerodynamic loads at 100 m.p.h. will compress the springs of the outer sprung structure until they are coil-bound and then the aerodynamic loads are being fed directly to the wheel uprights.
Chapman’s reply to this is that the same thing happens on a Williams or a Brabham, where the car comprises a single sprung structure, if the aerodynamic loads compress the suspension to the maximum, as we know does happen, then the loads are being transmitted directly to the wheel uprights, through the rocker arms or wishbones of the suspension.
The RAC have accepted, after taking legal advice on the use of words, that the Formula One rules do not forbid the use of two sprung structures nor of two sets of suspension springs. The Lotus 88B in their view complies totally with the requirements as laid down in the Concorde Agreement. (Had they been presented with the Lotus 88 as a car with two sprung structures, they would undoubtedly have accepted that on their current reasoning.) They have made it quite clear that the Lotus 88B will be acceptable if presented for scrutineering at Silverstone in exactly the same configuration in which it was inspected. In other words the RAC have given Team Lotus the go-ahead to race this new conception of a Formula One car. They are not going against the decisions of the FIA/.FISA, for those decisions applied to the Lotus 88, they are dealing with the Lotus 88B. The official RAC statement concludes as follows: “The Technical Commission (of the RAC) members unanimously concluded that the design of the Lotus 88B with its twin sprung structures, one of which carries the aerodynamic devices, does not contravene any current Formula 1 regulations and no objection would be raised by the Scrutineers at Silverstone in this respect.”
So there we have it, the Lotus 88B can race in the British Grand Prix on July 18th at Silverstone, provided of course the driver/or drivers qualify on practice lap times. These words are being written in mid-June in order to appear in print on July 1st, which itself is two whole weeks before the race, so by the time the green light goes on for the start of the British Grand Prix rest assured that much more will have happened. Some of Colin Chapman’s “friends” like Frank Williams, Teddy Mayer, Bernard Ecclestone and Ken Tyrrell will have raised a great fuss and some of his “rivals” like Ferrari, Renault, Talbot and Alfa Romeo will have joined in. It will be interesting to be at Silverstone to see if their complaints are heeded or whether any of them will have built new cars with two sprung structures. I am sure this is not the end of the saga of the eighty-eight. — D.S.J.