If the TEAM LOTUS, founded by the brilliant English engineer Anthony Colin Bruce CHAPMAN dit Colin and who died on December 16, 1982, marked the history of F1, between 1958 and 1994, with numerous technical innovations, at the chassis level of racing cars carrying its name, however, it is one that will stand out in 1981 for not having lasted long.


This is the LOTUS 88 which at the start was a masterpiece of creativity but which will go down in history, as the most ephemeral F1, since barely finished and a few test sessions on the clock, it was all simply prohibited, because declared non-compliant by the FISA (Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile) then recovered by the FIA ​​(Fédération Internationale Automobile) and this naturally to the chagrin of the LOTUS technical staff!

It should be noted that this happened at the time, in the midst of a conflict between FISA, the highest body in motorsport, and FOCA, the Association of Manufacturers in F1, where on the one hand the latter wanted to ban Turbo engines, while the FISA intended to ban the side skirts fitted to so-called ground effect single-seaters.

Taking advantage of this situation, Colin CHAPMAN decided to strike a blow to circumvent the technical regulations which provided that the single-seaters of F1, had to display a ground clearance of 6 cm in order to banish the ground effect in force on what the we defined as cars  »wing cars » between 1979 and 1982.

With the start of the LOTUS 88 in Hethel, a small village in Norfolk, where the team had its bases, the designers under the orders of CHAPMAN, Peter WRIGHT, Tony RUDD and Martin OGILVIE ventured into… gray areas of the rules and this to design an unconventional racing car that stood out completely from the competition.


F1-LOTUS-88- The car intended for Elio de ANGELIS, as it can still be admired during historic races-©Manfred GIET

The trick consisted in nesting two parts of the chassis one inside the other, to gain a lot of traction for the whole, whose dress looked more like a BATMOBILE.

This originality that some called ‘double chassis’ with a part supporting the hull-engine and suspension assembly, while the second part was superimposed on the first, part to constitute only the bodywork.

The principle of this technical ingenuity, with two separate frames, developed by the designers, allowed the use of a primary part, comprising all the aerodynamic elements and a secondary part, for the mechanical parts!

The set of these two frames nested one inside the other, made it possible to keep an effective aerodynamic attitude.


F1 – LOTUS-88-©-Manfred-GIET

After the first tests carried out by Nigel MANSELL and Elio de ANGELIS, the two in-house pilots on a  »stallion » with the LOTUS 86 logo, itself derived from the LOTUS 81 with an aluminum monocoque frame on , which was adapted to a large-scale system , reminiscent of the small shock absorbers generally used on the tailgates of production cars, and making possible rapid damping in compression and slow in rebound.

This subtlety allowed the primary chassis to lower quickly under the effect of the aerodynamic forces generated and to rise slowly while continuing to scrape the ground during braking.

MANSELL and de ANGELIS discreetly tested the LOTUS, thus equipped on the Jarama circuit near Madrid in Spain, where the news spread like a shock wave to the competition who feared to find themselves behind, facing to this revolutionary system even if this LOTUS 86 complied with the regulations but to the detriment of the spirit.

F1- Colin CHAPMAN will die a year after his stroke of genius, aborted with the Lotu -88 © Manfred GIET

As for Colin CHAPMAN, he didn’t care, convinced that his system was perfectly legal and suddenly had two copies built with the LOTUS 88 logo equipped with carbon fiber / Kevlar chassis which were presented with great fanfare in London. in February 1981.

Following the first tests then carried out at the Circuit Paul Ricard, in the pre-season ’81 where the Team ALFA ROMEO was also present with its 179 and its drivers Bruno GIACOMELLI and Mario ANDRETTI, it was difficult to draw an initial conclusion on the behavior of this revolutionary LOTUS T88.

In order to be able to gauge themselves against this unprecedented car, ALFA ROMEO took over at the end of the LOTUS test session with a final verdict in favor of the LOTUS T88, which was one second faster per lap.

This insolent supremacy subsequently proved, mobilized the competition to the point of becoming a legal affair between the Sporting and Technical Commission, the FISA, Ecclestone with the double hat as boss of FOCA and owner of Team BRABHAM whose BTs 49C however also presented a lot of gray areas, and the Builders.

During the first three Grands Prix of the 1981 season, the imbroglio was total, to the point that the LOTUS 88, caught between the decisions of the local Scrutineers and the Stewards and whose opinions constantly diverged, was therefore at each once prohibited from taxiing, forcing MANSELL and ANGELIS to fall back on LOTUS 81Bs.

A last attempt with a slightly modified 88 B LOTUS took place during the British GP of the same year, but despite the arguments put forward by Colin CHAPMAN and the support of the English Royal Automobile Club (RAC), the Stewards of the FISA did not allow themselves to be influenced, so much so that in the final count, at LOTUS, we had to fall back on an inefficient T87 chassis to end the season while the one that should have been the fatal weapon in 1981, the LOTUS 88 was definitely at the Museum!

Manfred GIET

Photos: Publiracing Agency

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