History of the Lotus 72

From the red and white Mclarens of the 1980s to the silver arrows of our era, F1 has been defined by dominant cars. Out of all these great machines one stands out in particular, the Lotus 72. With 20 wins, 2 drivers, and 3 constructors titles, the car is by far the most successful in the history of the sport. The car was designed by Lotus team boss Colin Chapmin, and borrowed design features from his Lotus 56 and Lotus 63 designs. Introduced in 1968 to compete in the Indy 500, the Lotus 56 was unconventional in almost every way. The car was powered by a Pratt & Whitney ST6 gas turbine, producing over 600 horsepower, much more than the other cars of its era. Despite this the car was relatively unsuccessful, due in part to the massive fuel tanks that the gas guzzling turbine required. Because of the lack of nose mounted radiators, the car featured a distinctive wedge shaped nose. This gave the car a massive aerodynamic advantage over its competitors.

The Lotus 56 featured a distinctive wedge shaped design
Chapman continued to invest time in this aerodynamic philosophy with his team's experimental 4WD test car, the Lotus 63. The 63 was a direct evolution of the legendary Lotus 49, meant to test the merit of four wheel drive in Grand Prix racing. The car proved difficult to set up and unsafe. After only a single test with the car Graham Hill refused to ever drive it again, calling it a "Deathtrap". While the car was a failure from a mechanical standpoint, it was aerodynamically revolutionary. It carried over the squared off bodywork of the Lotus 56, and introduced wings directly integrated into the bodywork. The innovations of these two cars would pave the way for Team Lotus's next car, the Lotus 72.

Hill drives the 63 at the Dutch Grand Prix
Development of the 72 began in late 1969 with plans to race the car in the 1970 season. Development of the car was done by chief designer Maurice Phillippe and was supervised by Chapmin. The car built upon the shoulder's of its predecessors, drawing heavily from the Lotus 49 and 56. While at first glance the car seemed conventional, under closer inspection the innovative spirit of Team Lotus became visible. The radiators of the car had been moved from their traditional location in the nose of the car to two pod-like structures on either side of the chassis. This allowed the designers to incorporate the squared off wedge design of the Lotus 56. The concept of placing the radiators in two pods has stayed with the sport to this day. Nearly every car from this point onward followed the general layout of the Lotus 72. The car also carried over the front wing design from the Lotus 63, with two wiglets incorporated into the bodywork of the nose.

The Lotus 72 was the first F1 car to use side mounted radiators
The rear of the car followed the same layout as its predecessor, with the Cosworth DFV engine forming the main structure of the rear. Mounted to the rear was a large wing which at the time was the largest that had been seen. This was also one of the first multi element wings, on its first outing the car featured a 3 element rear wing. The car was not without its fair share of problems, the anti-squat and anti-dive suspension implemented to keep the car steady created problems for the drivers. According to chief designer Maurice Philleppe, the problem with the suspension was that it gave the drivers very little "feel", making it difficult for them to lap consistently. As a result of these problems the 72 was disappointing on debut. Despite these problems the team pushed on with the project and removed the troubling anti-dive suspension. The 72 emerged as a dominant force after these modifications and went on to win four straight races. 

The mangled remains of Rindt's Lotus 72
The upbeat mood in the Lotus garage came to an abrupt end in September of 1970 when tragedy struck. Jochen Rindt was driving his Lotus 72 around Monza with the wings removed, a setup he preferred for the high speed circuit, when he lost control of his car under braking into Parabolica and veered hard to the left into a barrier. The car was ripped apart upon contact with the wall, Rindt died from injuries he received during the crash. While the true cause of the accident will never be known, it is likely that a failure of a brakeshaft caused the accident. Rindt's seat was taken by the young Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi. Fittipaldi would go on to win the penultimate race, guaranteeing the championship for Lotus and the late Jochen Rindt. The following year was a tough one for Lotus, Rindt's accident hung over the team. This and a road accident by Fittipaldi led to the team taking no wins that year, and only a small amount of podiums. 
Several modifications to the rear of the car were made that year, with a modified suspension and a large single piece rear wing introduced as the new D spec car.

The sorrow of 1971 was followed by an upbeat year for Lotus. A new sponsorship deal with John Player & Sons lead to the creation of one of the most iconic liveries in the history of the sport. Emerson would go on to win 5 races in his black and gold Lotus, securing him the title at the age of 25, at that time the youngest to win the title. This was the last driver's title for the car, with Jackie Stewart taking his third title in 1973, despite lotus winning the constructor's championship. Emerson Fittipaldi left the team at the end of the year for Mclaren and went on to win the title in 1974. The Lotus 72 raced on into 1975 but was woefully uncompetitive, never appearing on the podium.

The JPS livery is an icon of classic F1
With 20 wins and 5 championships, the 72 has a history few cars can match. Even greater than the victories earned is the legacy of this iconic design, the layout of the car has set the standard for every open wheel car that has followed it, even today's cars can trace their roots back to this legendary machine. The Lotus 72 has forever been immortalized by the cars that it influenced.

Like father, like son


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