Johnny Herbert describes Lotus as “Britain’s Ferrari”, and he’s spot on. Both were founded by charismatic, driven, temperamental men who somehow encapsulated the traits of their respective nations and held fast to a shared vision: to build stylish, quick sports cars designed to be driven hard. But for both Colin Chapman and Enzo Ferrari, one overriding passion enshrined their legacies: racing. It always came first.
Ferrari survived its Old Man’s death, eventually morphing into an organised racing machine unrecognisable from Enzo’s days. Team Lotus wasn’t so lucky. Formula 1 finally lost the much-diminished Lotus in 1994, but for many the true ‘Team’ died with its Old Man in December 1982.
Now Lotus is back on the grid, funded by Malaysian ringgit, but still operational from a base in rural Norfolk. No one is pretending this is Team Lotus, and we’ve already made clear our reservations at the use of the name, but we decided to ask those most closely associated with Chapman’s team to find out what they thought. Would they approve? You’ll find out within our 21-page salute to Lotus which starts on page 39.
So does the Lotus name still resonate in Grand Prix racing in the 21st Century? Logically, you’d have to question it. For younger generations, the heyday of Team Lotus is not even a memory. It is 32 years since Mario Andretti delivered Team’s last World Championship, in the landmark Type 79 tested in this issue and featured on our cover. Thereafter, Lotus’s fortunes fell into decline. The Ayrton Senna years showed signs of a revival, but after three seasons and six victories, he took himself and Honda to McLaren, a team with which he really could deliver on his potential. Lotus’s status as a frontline team went with him.
Yet despite all this, Lotus does still matter. The images of Jimmy in a Type 25, Graham in a Gold Leaf 49, Ronnie and Emerson in a John Player Special 72, Mario in a 79 – they are seared into the very fabric of F1. Time has not diminished the importance of Lotus. If anything, in the days of teams called Red Bull and Virgin, its return means more than ever. That is why Tony Fernandes and Mike Gascoyne must not fail. That is why Lotus F1 Racing is the most significant of the four new teams joining the grid in Bahrain, and they carry our best wishes with them as a new era begins.
It’s only a name? Don’t you believe it.
Speaking of names, Ross Brawn let slip an interesting fact in the run-up to the launch of Mercedes GP. Apparently, the registered company number has survived the team’s many guises, through the years of BAR, Honda and Brawn GP, all the way back to its days as… Tyrrell. Therefore, he can cheekily claim that Mercedes GP is the fourth oldest F1 team on the grid after Ferrari, Lotus and McLaren – make that third if you refuse to count the new Lotus as anything to do with the old one!
The livery of the first true Silver Arrow since 1955 is a pleasing nod to the past (see page 12). But Brawn and Michael Schumacher won’t spend much time looking back this year. Schuey’s competitive urge can never be underestimated. He wants that eighth world title, and if he makes it, surely it would be his greatest. But after three years of reflection on his career, will Michael do anything it takes to get it, like he used to? In his absence, F1 has changed. Like Niki Lauda before him, Schumacher will have to adapt to the evolutions within his old, familiar domain. We can’t wait to see what will happen.
Damien Smith, Editor