Key figures associated with Team Lotus tell us what they think about the return of the famous name to Formula 1, and recall why it was special to work at Norfolk’s finest
By Paul Fearnley
Son of Team Lotus founder Colin Chapman & MD of Classic Team Lotus
I have always said that if the Lotus name was to return to Formula 1 it needed to be in association with the factory, Group Lotus. That’s the case with this team. Group Lotus has very much been the ongoing identity of the brand. Our family is very close to the new team, and we are pleased it’s using the Lotus name in F1.
People appreciate that Team Lotus was my father’s creation and I think its heritage stands on its own. Lotus F1 Racing is an entirely new initiative. It will be carrying the name, and that will be good for the brand worldwide, but whatever success it has will be entirely due to its own effort, which is exactly as it should be.
Technical Director, 1955-62
It comes down to no publicity being bad publicity. I’m not a motor racing historian, so I’m not sure exactly how much a team like Jordan achieved, but I’m sure it was far less than Lotus. Yet everybody has heard of Jordan. That’s what F1 can do for you. I remember Colin telling me that John Player didn’t expect Lotus to win every year; success every three years was enough to make its association with the team worthwhile.
Of course it’s even more about money these days – so it’s to be hoped that Lotus F1 Racing has enough of it. When I started out with Colin in 1953 Lotus was totally amateur. In 1955, which is when Colin and I went full-time, we had to build and deliver six MkVI kits before we could afford to build the MkIX, the works car. When Esso gave us £500 it was a big deal.
If the new team goes well it will be particularly good for the Lotus brand worldwide. There are still many people around the world who would love to see success come Lotus’s way. The chances of the team getting it right are quite slim, and a few people are worried it might not be successful. But that’s life. And actually I think Colin would be all for it.
Driver, 1968-69 & 1976-80
It’s very positive news. Lotus still has fans all over the world, so there will be a lot of curiosity as to how this new team fares. It will have instant recognition when it presents itself on the grid. I’m sure, too, that the name will act as a lure for sponsors, because it’s a team that will be talked about, win or lose.
This of course means there’s a lot resting on its shoulders. But it’s always like that when you are trying to represent a brand that is iconic in F1: you must have ambitious goals, but if you fail you will be singled out and scrutinised. The name Lotus could be a double-edged sword for this team, but I’m sure it’s already instilling a sense of pride and responsibility.
What made Team Lotus special was Colin Chapman, the great leader, the inspirational figure. He wanted nothing less than the ultimate performance from everyone in his team. When Colin was on his game you wanted to be one of his drivers. He could get bored quite quickly though, so Team Lotus’s history is one of peaks and valleys – but there were far more peaks than valleys.
No doubt, the new team is facing a daunting job. It has a lot to live up to. But Ross Brawn did it: put the right people in the right places, and inspired them. Let’s hope the new Lotus can do the same.
It’s brilliant to see that name back in F1. Lotus, with all its history and success – Chapman and Clark in the 1960s, the John Player Specials of the ’70s, Senna in the ’80s – is Britain’s Ferrari. Even though it’s been out of F1 since 1994 it’s still one of the most successful teams. And now, with some of the big car manufacturers leaving F1, it’s probably the right time for it to be making a comeback.
Lotus was an exciting team to sign for. You were aware of all that history. Although Lotus F1 Racing is a new team, it has a close link with Lotus Cars and is based in Norfolk like the old team was. Even the young guys in the team will be aware of the name. That will play a small but important part.
Now we just have to see what [chief technical officer] Mike Gascoyne comes up with. Can he and his team produce a competitive car? Force India proved last year that it can be done. It’s up to Lotus F1 Racing to do the same. Mike has said he wants to be the best of the new teams in 2010. I would hope that they could be up among the more established teams.
In the 1960s and ’70s F1 racing was Lotus. It’s a name from the past and it’s great that it’s coming back as the big car companies start to pull out. Let’s give the smaller teams a chance.
I feel sure that people will understand that Lotus has been out of F1 for a number of seasons for financial reasons and so won’t expect too much of the new team. But who knows, perhaps it could do a Brawn. I think Red Bull and McLaren will be the major players this season, but after that it’s all to play for. So come on, get on with it. Why not?
I’m sure Colin would have found a way to exploit the situation. Motor racing would have still turned him on. Absolutely. Yeah, yeah, he was totally competitive. I think he’d be pleased to see the name back. It’s totally brilliant. I just want to wish them good luck.
Having the name back on the circuits is great, but it’s completely separate from the old Team Lotus, so I have slightly mixed feelings. Without Colin Chapman it can never be Team Lotus. He was something special. His presence was our driving force. When he died [in 1982] so did Team Lotus.
That said, I would like to wish the new team the best of luck. I see it as a natural evolution. Even back in the ’60s I saw Lotus evolve. In 1961 we were basically an amateur team with some support from Esso. By the time we came back from Indianapolis [in ’63] the money had become more important than winning. That wasn’t a bad thing – and we still wanted to win – it was just a natural process. That’s what Lotus in F1 is going through right now.
Anybody who goes into F1 has got to be aggressive, has to go for it, be positive about it. I’m not entirely sure if the use of the Lotus name is meant to be part of that, but I’m sure it will act as a spur to the people involved.
I’m pretty neutral about it. It’s not Team Lotus anymore. That died with Colin – even though various people tried to keep it alive.
For all his faults, Colin was a leader. I doubt very much that the new team will have someone as charismatic as he was. Team Lotus had an aura in the ’70s. Colin was a man of significant fame, and his drivers were Emerson Fittipaldi and Ronnie Peterson. We went to races knowing we would win if we didn’t stuff up; most teams go hoping for a few points. People like Jackie Stewart gave us a lot of grief but we felt sure that victory was within our control. I never got that feeling at any other time in my career. It was a mindset that I guess Ferrari had with Schumacher, and McLaren had with Prost and Senna. It wasn’t something we talked about over a morning cup of tea, it wasn’t something Colin said, it was a personal judgement: I knew in my deepest soul that we would win. This is something the new team is unlikely to feel, even if it eventually proves successful.
I’m not sure how many people will remember Team Lotus being like that. You are talking more than 20 years ago. That’s a generation. Nevertheless, I’m sure that the new team’s association with the name will open a few doors. But it will put extra pressure on it, too. When I was at Lotus we were F1’s best team, the team that our rivals aspired to be. Mike Gascoyne has done good work in the past, although he does seem to fall out with his employees. Now that he is working for a team he’s helped create perhaps he will prove more durable.
Guys like Mike are engineering managers. When I was designing F1 cars I was lucky if I had a few people to help me draw them out. Today an F1 team has a cast of thousands. Everyone’s a specialist. You probably don’t know the guy working on a different part down the corridor. As an industry, F1 has moved on. So this new team can be nothing like Team Lotus was if it wants to be successful.
Mechanic, 1960-69 & 1977-94
There’s been plenty of positive reaction to the new team in the local community because it will bring a great deal of publicity to East Anglia. There’s a lot of general interest, not just within the world of motor sport.
Right now one has to be positive about the new team, give it a chance. If the cars are built well, presented well, reasonably competitive and show a little obvious improvement, everybody will be behind them. I just hope they’re not using the name only to get things started. Team Lotus was not like that. It was there to win, a very competitive operation run very tightly by Colin Chapman. This new team must have those same attributes.
For the sake of the Chapman family, I hope the new team is successful. It will be great for the car company, for everybody connected with Lotus, if it is.
It’s great to see the name back in Formula 1, and I think any ex-employee will feel that way. My only concern is that the Malaysian aspect of the operation might swamp the Lotus side of things if the team becomes successful. People who view such things seriously will wish them well. But the same people will also be concerned that the new team does no damage to the legacy of Lotus.
I don’t think Colin Chapman would have thought a great deal of it, to be honest. He was interested in new technology and the excitement it brought. I don’t think he’d have found switching from a small fuel tank to a large fuel tank that engaging. From the time of the Lotus 88 debacle [in 1981], he was moving away from F1 into boats and aeroplanes, so it’s not impossible to think of him handing the team over to somebody else to run.
Team Manager & Director, 1969-76 & 1981-89
I’m delighted to see a name that truly belongs in F1 back in F1. But I can’t help but be a little anxious. It’s not Team Lotus as we know it. It’s far removed from the previous incarnation and therefore we will have to wait and see how it develops. I wish the team all the success in the world. But there’s Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren to beat before you get anywhere in F1, so I am concerned that the outcome might be a diminishing of the reputations of Lotus and Team Lotus. I’d have been perfectly happy for Lotus’s 79 Grand Prix wins and seven constructors’ World Championships to remain as crystallised pieces of F1 history.
That might sound like a thoroughly morbid view – but I don’t know any of the people there. Mike Gascoyne I know by reputation: he’s had a lot of jobs and is reputed to be difficult to work with. Colin was difficult to work with, too, but that was different: he owned the team and could do what he wanted. I guess this is the time for Gascoyne to really prove himself.
I wouldn’t like to think that Lotus F1 Racing is just about Gascoyne, though. It’s about the people in the team. Key people in key places. And I think they will find what we found, that Norfolk is a bit remote from F1 Valley and thus not an area of easy movement of people. The Lotus name might help them overcome that. We shall see.
I have the utmost admiration for the job the Malaysians have done with Group Lotus. They have continued Colin’s vision: good-looking, lightweight sports cars with good power-to-weight ratios and brilliant handling. But F1 is a different story altogether.
We have understood for years that car manufacturers can pull out of F1 at any moment; we were concerned about that when we were racing. But Mercedes and Ferrari would appear to be in it for the long haul, and that means F1 is not going to become a Cosworth-vs-Ferrari battle like it was in the 1960s and ’70s. Had it been, I would have given Lotus F1 Racing a better chance of success. As it is, I’m worried.
Driver, 1967-70, Consultant Engineer, 1992-94
It’s a sort-of Lotus – and that’s probably a good thing. There is magic in the name. I’ve been involved with it since 1967, and the pain and suffering, the projects good and bad, the ups and downs driving for Chapman… it’s verging on a love affair. There have been tremendous moments of elation in bringing a project together, usually from virtually nothing.
I worked for Team Lotus during the Häkkinen/Herbert/Zanardi days, too, and we had a lot to live up to but were underfunded. This time I don’t think the public will expect a large amount of success. Every enthusiast knows the huge amount of money required to chisel off the last half-second. It’s going to take time, too. But since the Malaysians bought [a majority stake in] Lotus [in 1996], not once have they shirked in their support. So we can be pretty sure that this F1 project is not a fly-by-night.
I live in the village, town-ette, where Mike Gascoyne and his men have set up. Theirs is an established facility and I know it’s ideal for F1. So I think Lotus has the best chance of the four new teams in F1 this season. Put it this way, every time I drive past the factory its car park is full. Always a good sign.
As long as it was a serious attempt – financed well and staffed well – to bring the name back, which this obviously is, I think Colin would have been pleased. And it’s far better for F1 that Lotus comes back in this fashion rather than have a grid full of rebadged customer cars.
My reaction to the new team is favourable.
It can’t do any harm. The brand-awareness for Lotus over the past few years has been limited. What’s going on in Formula 1 now will change that. Ferrari went through a period of negativity during the 1980s and ’90s – very little success in F1 and a range of unreliable road cars – yet its global brand remained strong because of its F1 involvement and its history and it bounced back. The same could happen to Lotus.
Lotus F1 Racing has got some good people, but it’s going to be difficult for the team in 2010. In such a short period of time, to get the right people together and then compete against the likes of McLaren and Ferrari is going to be tough. But I think people will be realistic and not expect the new Lotus to be at the front next season.
The Malaysians, meanwhile, have been very supportive of Lotus over the years. Without them who knows what might have happened? So I don’t foresee a situation whereby they’d damage the Lotus brand. Why would they want to? They are keen to prove the capacity of their engineers.
It’s not really Team Lotus, and I’m sad about that. But, fine, let’s see how they do. Let’s wish them all the best.
Mike Gascoyne is a very capable bloke – and the name will act as a clarion call and a spur for the team. They won’t want to be the people to let the Lotus name down.
But you need to know how difficult it is to set up and run an F1 team. People don’t understand why one team can be at the front one weekend and off the pace the next. So I’m not sure they will understand if Lotus doesn’t start winning pretty soon.
Colin wouldn’t have fitted in at all with modern international racing. His thing was coming up with radical ideas, and that’s very difficult to do these days. Fine-tuning was not his style. The main thing I took from his Team Lotus, however, was that if ever you think you are trying your hardest, you’re only halfway there. To be successful at F1 you have to be at 110 per cent seven days a week. That’s what this new Lotus team will have to do.
I didn’t expect to see the name back in F1. We all wanted to keep the name up there, but by the early ’90s we thought it had served its time.
After [team-mate] Martin Donnelly’s crash [at Jerez] I decided not to drive the car the next day. It was a dog. But when I arrived at the circuit and saw the effort the guys had put in overnight – titanium blocks to shore up the chassis where Martin’s had failed – I changed my mind. I knew that if I didn’t go out that day that Lotus would have gone bankrupt.
And I didn’t want to be known as the driver who put Lotus in its grave.
Lotus is a great name, a special name, and we all wish it well – but the name won’t carry it. If Lotus F1 Racing has got the right kind of money behind it, however, I think it could be the fastest of the new teams out of the blocks. It has done a good job getting Mike Gascoyne. He might not be the absolute best, but he’ll be a great guy to have on the shop floor. He’s been there, done it, got a lot of experience, and I think he can take the team to quite a high level. Then it’s up to the backers to push on, to show how serious a GP team they want to be.
‘Unpaid’ draughtsman/designer, 1954-59
I’m pleased that the new team is approved by Group Lotus, but unless you spend an enormous amount of money – and I’m not sure Group Lotus has that much to spend – I don’t think this team will have any chance of enhancing the name of Lotus in competition. That’s a worry.
And already I’ve read that Lotus is talking about doing Le Mans, even Indycars. That might have been OK in the 1950s, when Colin and I were drawing out new cars sat at a kitchen table, but now everything costs millions. They would do better to get their heads down and concentrate on one thing. They haven’t even started [in F1] and already they seem to be getting ahead of themselves.
It will be good to have the name to cheer on, but I don’t think modern F1 is the sort of racing that would have got Colin’s blood flowing.
Draughtsman/designer, 1958-59 & 1962-65
It’ll be nice to see the name again, but obviously it won’t have the same connotations. Colin Chapman is no longer around, and he was Team Lotus. This new team is going to need someone as good as him, or an Adrian Newey, if it’s to have any chance of success. It’ll need someone with an overall grasp of F1 allied to a problem-solver, a man to deal with the details. The latter role is the one I filled for Colin.
There is an aura about the Lotus name, but I don’t think there’s any magic in it. For me, Lotus was the team because it was based in Hornsey and I lived in Tottenham, a bus or cycle ride away. So I don’t expect this team to win. Whoever its drivers are, they won’t be as good as Jim Clark – and that’s another problem.
Technical director, 1989-91
Of the four new teams in 2010, only Lotus F1 Racing will come anywhere near the established teams. People, even those in the sport’s lower echelons, completely underestimate how much is involved in F1. The gap between it and F3 is huge. The best drivers and engineers are already in F1, and although those left behind think they’re ready, are good enough to join F1, they’re wrong. The race team will think it knows what to do, and it won’t. They’ll think the design will be fine, and it won’t be.
Lotus might be different, though. Toyota’s withdrawal means that Mike Gascoyne has been able to recruit its good people. He worked at Toyota and so knows who the good people are. Toyota’s car was pretty competitive at all bar two GPs last season, and I expect Lotus to benefit from that. Of the new teams Lotus will be the one with the most recent data and knowledge. In terms of composites and design, Lotus should be state of the art.
I was very naïve when I joined Lotus. I thought everything would be in place. When I got there I discovered that the sponsorship was marginal – $8 million compared to McLaren’s $70m – and that a lot of data had been sold to Lotus Cars. The team was broken. There was no aura. But there was an atmosphere. When I wanted a computer I was told that Colin didn’t used to like there being lots of wires in offices.
Nobody wants to be the person who mucks up Lotus – I certainly didn’t want to be – and I’m sure all at Lotus F1 Racing will do their best. But some things you cannot control.
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