Autopia Planes, Trains, Automobiles and the Future of Transportation Formula 1 Goes Retro-Racing With the Return of Lotus

lotus

Amidst all of the bickering, wrangling and hand-wringing consuming the Formula One teams when they aren’t on the track comes word that Lotus could return to the sport next year. Yes, that would be the same Lotus founded by Colin Chapman, one of the greatest innovators racing ever saw. The same Lotus that revolutionized F1 on more than one occasion.

The retro-racing vibe goes deeper. Brabham, the outfit launched by “Black Jack” Brabham and once owned by F1 capo di tutti capi Bernie Ecclestone has its eyes on the grid. There’s also some mumbling about Lola and March fielding cars next year.

All of this is fueled by the civil war between the Formula One Teams Association and the Federation Internationale d’Automobile, which are at odds over the FIA’s plan for a budget cap to rein in the stratospheric cost of racing. With the FIA promising to bring down the cost of entry and the major teams threatening to bolt if that happens, smaller outfits see a chance to go racing.

So Lotus and Brabham are coming back, huh? We have one word for this news:

Bunk.

Don’t get us wrong. We’d love to see Lotus back on the grid, especially if the team proved to be nearly as innovative as it was in its glory days of the 1960s and ’70s. Lotus pioneered groundbreaking technology like the full monocoque chassis in the gorgeous Lotus 25 and using the engine as a stressed member in the Lotus 49. Those designs are still used today, as are the side-mounted radiators Chapman came up with. He also created underbody ground effect cars with the Lotus 78 and 79 and introduced mid-engined cars to the Indy 500.

But this isn’t Colin Chapman’s Lotus we’re talking about. Chapman died in 1982 and Lotus quit F1 in ‘94.

F3 team Litespeed hopes to use the Lotus name and, in all likelihood, tap the company for chassis development. Litespeed is a real organization, and it has been fielding cars for awhile now. What’s more, founders Nino Judge and Steve Kenchington are Lotus alumni with the blessing of David Hunt, who owns the Lotus naming rights. They’re reportedly working on a chassis penned by Mike Gascoyne, an exceedingly gifted engineer who has worked for the likes of McLaren, Benneton, Renault and Toyota.

So far, so good. But if you’re going to have an F1 car on the grid in 2010, you’d better be pretty far along by this point. As former team owner and outspoken pundit Eddie Jordan noted before the start of Sunday’s Turkish Grand Prix, any thought that Lotus and Brabham will be ready is wishful thinking. You’re looking at the better part of a year to develop a car, and it takes more than an announcement that a minor-league team has acquired the naming rights and help from a journeyman technical director.

But hey, at least Litespeed is further along than “Brabham.”

Branham says it will be back in 2010. To be more accurate, the guy who owns the name Brabham says it will be back in 2010. That would be a German fellow by the name of Franz Hilme, who says he’s serious about reviving a team that quit racing in 1992. Equally serious is Sir Jack Brabham, who launched the team in 1960 and is none too happy to see his name used in this way. He’s peeved enough that he’s threatening legal action, which for “Black Jack” is a step up. Last time we saw him this ticked off he was taking a swing a track marshal in Holland.

And as we noted, both Lola and March say they’ll be back next year. The operative word here is say.

The start of the 2010 Formula 1 season is roughly nine months away. Even if you had the car designed, the factory to build it and the piles of cash needed to field it, we’re hard-pressed to think you have a snowball’s chance in Vegas of being there when the flag drops (metaphorically speaking) in March. Yes, the upstart Brawn GP team came out of the blue to wage one hell of a campaign this season, but that doesn’t count. The team rose from the ashes of Honda’s lavishly funded team and Ross Brawn started developing the car for Honda early in the 2008 season.