x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

A Lotus by any other name

There is a small-scale war developing between the people that manufacture those cute little Lotus sports cars and the new-for-2010 Formula One team.

Lotus, one of the most famous names in motor racing, seems to be in the news an awful lot these days. As I write, there is a small-scale war developing between the people that manufacture those cute little sports cars and the new-for-2010 Formula One team, which the Malaysian-owned manufacturer had licenced to call itself Lotus Racing.

It's a very complicated affair. Lotus - the car maker - is about to sponsor the Renault F1 team, which will probably run in the old John Player Special black-and-gold livery as "Lotus Renault GP". The other team, meanwhile, had bought the historic "Team Lotus" naming rights from James Hunt's brother, David, its owner since 1994, and will run in the historic green-and-gold colours of Colin Chapman.

Confused? Yeah, me too. Ironically, neither of these F1 teams can really lay claim to the heritage of Colin Chapman's seven constructor's titles as Team Lotus, which ran independently of the manufacturing business.

Chapman's Lotus heritage is everywhere. His son Clive still runs some of his dad's old grand prix cars in the FIA Historic Formula One series. The little Caterham Seven, which we sell and race here in the UAE, was designed more than 50 years ago by Chapman. There are many other cars that owe much of their success to Lotus, including Tesla's electric sports car that Abu Dhabi invested in, the Chevrolet Corvette, Ford Lotus Cortina, Vauxhall VX220 and the notorious DeLorean.

Former F1 driver Jonathan Palmer also has a Lotus connection. He recently celebrated the last of 13 seasons of his Formula Palmer Audi (FPA) series.

In the mid-nineties, Palmer was well aware that young drivers trying to reach F1 found the financial hurdle to progressing their careers simply too high. Even in those days, a season of Formula Ford cost £90,000, Formula Renault required a budget of £170,000 and F3 was around £350,000.

Palmer decided to create a single-seater championship where drivers of more modest means could progress to become professional racing drivers. But he had to find ways to reduce costs, so he planned to have identical cars operated by one team. He also needed a relatively low-cost engine and gearbox to keep costs down.

Ralph Firman Sr, then owner of a race car company that had helped Palmer during his Formula Ford career, was asked to provide an F1-style car that was inexpensive to produce and maintain. So it was ex-Lotus chief designer Dave Baldwin, working with Firman, who designed the FPA car.

Baldwin is famous for having previously designed the Lotus 59, as well as the Lotus 69, one of the prettiest Formula cars ever built. The result was that FPA ran very successfully for 13 years. Their first champion, Justin Wilson, went to race in F1 and Indycar, and the last champion was Ginetta's young Nigel Moore, who was in Dubai recently doing some driver training for us.

Coincidentally, our own Formula Gulf 1000 series was developed for the same reasons, and it was Lotus 69 man Baldwin who designed our car. Let's hope we run for at least 13 years.

Barry Hope is a director of GulfSport Racing, which is seeking the first Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online at www.singleseaterblog.com