Time was when Lotus was every bit as respected and revered as Ferrari at the sharp end of the grand prix grid. The British F1 team’s new owner Tony Fernandes has shown himself to be a most enterprising operator as he works to rebuild that reputation.
Over the Monza F1 weekend it was announced that not only would Lotus be swapping Cosworth for Renault engines in 2011, but the outfit will revert to being titled Team Lotus rather than Lotus Racing for the new season.
It was way back in 1982, just before Colin Chapman’s death, that the team last switched from Cosworth to Renault engines. This was at the height of the turbo era, of course, and the first Lotus-Renault turbo triumph came in the rain-soaked 1985 Portuguese GP at Estoril thanks to the driving genius of Ayrton Senna.
The brilliant Brazilian always rated this as one of the finest victories of his career, not least because the only form of traction control on that Lotus was “my right foot".
Since that memorable day Lotus F1 cars would be powered by Honda, Judd and Lamborghini engines before the team ceased racing at the end of the 1994 season.
With a great sense of commercial flair and enterprise, AirAsia co-founder Fernandes has done a great job putting in train Lotus’s revival this year and his aim in 2011 will be decisively to move from the front of the second division on the grid through to the front half of the field.
Of course, talking of Monza in the context of Lotus inevitably leads us to the sad 40th anniversary of Jochen Rindt’s death during practice for the 1970 Italian GP, when his Lotus 72 crashed after the failure of an inboard brake shaft.
Rindt earned the unenviable distinction of becoming the sport’s so-far only posthumous world champion – and his death added further momentum to Jackie Stewart’s safety crusade, which transformed most circuits across the world.
Stewart was at Monza over the weekend, but it was Emerson Fittipaldi who was the guest driver on the panel of FIA stewards. Others who have taken this role during the year include Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Alain Prost. So when is the FIA going to get around to inviting Sir Jackie to join that list?