Lotus 80

Lotus 80

by Luca Dal Monte

The Lotus 80 is a classic example of Colin Chapman’s engineering genius, his insatiable drive to never settle, to always push boundaries… and how this continuous pursuit could sometimes be counterproductive.

After winning the Drivers’ and Constructors’ World Championships in 1978 with the model 79 thanks to the ground effect he had perfected by applying aeronautical concepts to a Formula 1 car, for the 1979 season Chapman decides to go even further, transforming not only the sides of the car but the entire vehicle into a kind of enormous inverted wing so that the airflow keeps it glued to the ground. If only it had worked!

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Mario Andretti: As the reigning world champion in 1979, Mario found himself having to defend his title behind the wheel of the previous year’s car. The Lotus 80, in fact, fell short of expectations: excellent and very fast in a straight line, it became unstable under braking and in corners. Despite everything, Andretti raced it in three Grand Prix, making it to the podium at Jarama, the debut race of the 80 model in the championship. He later retired in Monaco and Dijon, racing the rest of the season in the previous year’s car.

Carlos Reutemann: The Argentine driver had left Ferrari at the end of 1978 and joined the team of the moment. Or so he thought. After the first winter tests, Reutemann refused to sit behind the wheel of the Lotus 80, which he deemed too dangerous. Despite Chapman’s pressure, Carlos wouldn’t change his mind and never took to the track with the 80 model. He raced the entire 1979 season behind the wheel of the Lotus 79, which unfortunately for him, had lost its edge.

Our model cars:

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As conceived by the brilliant English constructor, the downforce that his new car would be able to create would mean that even the front wings and the rear spoiler would not be necessary. On paper, that is. In reality, the Lotus 80, configured in this way, without wings and with the famous side skirts running the entire length of both sides of the car, struggled. In the spring of ’79, as he was developing it, Chapman slowly surrendered to the evidence, first adding the front and rear spoilers, and finally deciding to abandon the project.

For some reason, the debut saw the Lotus 80 on the podium – a third-place finish achieved by Andretti in the Spanish Grand Prix. But after two more races, Monaco and France, Andretti and Chapman gave up. What remains is the memory of a beautiful car, with a livery that sees Lotus returning to British Racing Green, embellished by the red-blue-azure stripes of the new sponsor Martini & Rossi.

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