Lotus 91

Lotus 91

by Luca Dal Monte

It’s a relatively conventional car for Colin Chapman, the brilliant English constructor who, throughout his career, alternated between moments when his insights revolutionized the world of Formula 1 and others where his creations struggled to finish a race, often due to fragility resulting from solutions that were too much ahead of their time. Unfortunately, the Lotus 91 is also the last car that Chapman, who passed away in December 1982, sees take on the racetrack.

Naturally, the 91 model is a wing car. But in designing it, Chapman, Martin Ogilvie, and Tony Rudd paradoxically draw on what Williams learned about ground effect from the Lotus 79 of 1978 with the FW07 model. At the same time, the Lotus 91 also benefits from some solutions that were studied for the 88 model, which never raced in an official event.

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Nigel Mansell: In his second full season with Lotus, the future “Lion of England” roars only faintly. His best result during 1982 is third place in the Brazilian Grand Prix, the second race of the year. The only other points finish is fourth place in Monaco. Then, four finishes within the top ten and six retirements.

Elio De Angelis: Elio gives Colin Chapman the last victory of his life. It’s August 15, 1982, Zeltweg, Austrian Grand Prix. Four laps remain when the race leader is forced to retire. De Angelis takes the lead with his black-gold JPS-branded Lotus. For the remaining laps, he has to fend off Keke Rosberg, who is closing in behind with his Williams. In a photo finish final, Elio crosses the line just 50 milliseconds ahead, a mere fraction. It marks the 150th victory for the Ford-Cosworth V8. Completing the season for the young Italian driver are six points-scoring finishes.

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There are three cutting-edge solutions debuting with the Lotus 91. The first is carbon brakes, introduced to Formula 1 by Gordon Murray and his Brabham team. The second is active suspension, which allows for controlling and adapting the behaviour of the suspension according to circumstances. Initially, control occurs through hydro pneumatic valves, but later, a computer will be in charge of the system. The 91 model is also the first Lotus made of carbon fiber.

In some races of the season, it is used without front wings. The results are not bad: a podium with Mansell and a victory with De Angelis, the last for Team Lotus with Colin Chapman alive.

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