I had the pleasure yesterday (24th April 2013) of a trip to the Lotus F1 headquarters, and a tour around the site. It was fascinating to see some of the more obscure parts of the set up.
It is impressive, of course, to have a very full trophy cabinet in the office, and a collection of championship winning cars, but even more so to have a Formula One car in reception on a pole.
The current Lotus F1 team have an interesting history. The team started life as Toleman. Toleman had been a manufacturing company set up in 1926 in Old Trafford, Manchester, before moving to Essex, and in the 1970s, entered the world of racing. They entered a car in Formula Ford in 1977, and provided a chassis for March in F2 in 1978, the same year that they hired designer Rory Byrne.
At the end of 1980, Toleman announced their entry to Formula One, with Brian Henton and Derek Warwick driving the TG181 car, as designed by Rory Byrne.
In 1984, Toleman debuted a rookie driver from Brazil called Ayrton Senna, the reigning British Formula Three champion at the time. This ability to spot talent has been a theme for the team.
Senna’s rookie season in F1 included a spectacular drive in Monaco that saw him take second place behind Alain Prost when the race was controversially stopped because of the weather conditions.
In 1986, the team became Benetton, after being bought out by the clothing chain who had been a sponsor of the Toleman team. In 1991, another rookie driver, Michael Schumacher, moved to Benetton after driving one race for Jordan to cover for Betrand Gachot who was in prison at the time. That was the same year that the team hired Tom Walkinshaw and Ross Brawn, with Brawn serving as technical director. The Byrne – Brawn – Schumacher combination helped Benetton, and Schumacher win the 1994 and 1995 World Drivers’ Championship.
The team was bought by Renault in 2000, and in 2001 hired British driver Jenson Button after his debut season for Williams. The team was renamed Renault in 2002, and appointed Minardi driver Fernando Alonso as their test driver. In 2003, Alonso replaced Button, and put the Renault on pole position for the 2003 Malaysian Grand Prix. I was rather pleased that I had travelled to Kuala Lumpur for that race.
Alonso won the 2005 and 2006 World Drivers’ Championships for Renault, before heading to McLaren for a season, then coming back to Renault in 2008. In 2009, the team gave rookie Romain Grosjean his first F1 drive.
In 2010, Renault sold a majority stake to Genii Capital, an investment group, and Éric Boullier was introduced as team principal.
The team was renamed Lotus F1 for the 2012 season, and former World Champion Kimi Räikkönen returned to the sport, to drive alongside Romain Grosjean. Kimi won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2012, and has been impressive so far in 2013 with a win in the opening race in Australia. At the last Grand Prix in Bahrain, the team had a second and third place.
Although Schumacher had managed one race and Alonso one season in Formula one before being hired by the team, it is still impressive that these rookies, together with Senna, all made their Formula One debut with the team.
I suspect that we have more impressive results to come for the team.
The offices are remarkably impressive with a number of cars to be seen around the site. There are some very interesting parts of the site which, of course, are not appropriate to share. We arrived about the same time as Romain Grosjean yesterday, who was visiting the factory. Most of us were much too professional to turn into giggling fans and ask for a photo. Although perhaps one of the four of us did. I promise it wasn’t me.