Lotus 81

Lotus 81

by Luca Dal Monte

In preparation for the 1980 season, Lotus team manager and owner Colin Chapman takes corrective measures. The extraordinarily innovative Lotus 80 had been a total failure. The car, which was supposed to elevate the concept of ground effect that Chapman had introduced to Formula 1 two years prior, only competed in three races during the 1979 season, and with only one of the team’s drivers, as the other refused to get behind the steering wheel. Looking ahead to 1980, Chapman, for once, abandons the exploration of the unknown to keep his feet firmly on the ground.

Thus, the Lotus 81, naturally a ground-effect car, but relatively traditional in its design: inverted wings in the side pods, side skirts along the sides, but nothing truly new compared to the innovations Chapman introduced with the 78 and 79 models.

The engine is the well-proven 8-cylinder Ford-Cosworth that powers almost all the teams participating in the Formula 1 World Championship during those years.

Lotus 81 Image 1


Mario Andretti: Mario Andretti, the 1978 world champion, in his final year with Lotus, ends the 1980 season with only one point to his name, earned from a sixth-place finish in the last race of the year, the United States East Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. The rest of the season is a long struggle at the wheel of a car so fragile that forced him to retire nine times out of fourteen races. And in the four races he manages to finish – South Africa, Monaco, Germany, and the Netherlands – Mario remains far from the points-scoring zone.

Elio De Angelis: Elio De Angelis, the young Italian driver, is in his first season with Lotus. The fragility of the 81 model prevents him from being a real contender, but in the second race of the year, Elio manages to showcase his driving skills by finishing second in the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos. Incidentally, this is the best result achieved by the Lotus 81 in the season and a half it was used. Completing Elio’s 1980 season are two fourth places at Monza and Watkins Glen, and a sixth place at Zeltweg.

Our model cars:

Lotus 81 Image 2

The Lotus 81 will not go down in history as one of Lotus’s most successful cars. However, in the fourteen races it competes in, it still manages to secure two podium finishes, one in the 1980 season and another in the following season, where it is used in the early races while awaiting the new car, which will not be the model 88, a car that would have featured not one, but two chassis, one inside the other – another brilliant idea by Chapman that, however, founders on the rocks of a very skeptical Federation.

Fourteen points in total between the two drivers in the 1980 season and an almost uninterrupted series of retirements.

Lotus 81 Image 3