The first article in this series was originally going to be about Jordan Grand Prix, but following the news about a new Lotus team’s planned entry into F1 in 2010, I couldn’t help but get thinking about Lotus liveries. After all, of all the new teams entering next year, Lotus is the name that will get even the more casual observers thinking about famous colour schemes – I can think of three or four instantly evocative classics off the top of my head that it would immediately be great to see a return of.
So in taking a skim over the history of Lotus liveries (a less detailed one than I’ll be doing for the likes of Jordan and Benetton, for whom I’ll cover each individual season – Lotus competed for 38 years, after all!), I’ll also be speculating over whether any of the classic colour schemes could feasibly make a reappearance in 2010 – or will we see something new entirely?
1958-1968 – British Racing Green
When Lotus started racing – in case you didn’t know – Grand Prix cars were painted in national colour schemes – and, as a British team, they hence raced in predominantly green cars, in that distinctive and classic “British Racing Green” shade. Even in those days, however, the team gave the colour scheme a distinctive look of their own, by adding a thick yellow stripe (presumably drawn from the marque’s yellow-and-green logo) that ran from the nose along the centre of the car. This gave the team a visual identity that it would carry through its entire existence – as evidenced by the fact that, when there wasn’t a tobacco company painting the car their own colour, the team would always revert back to some combination of these colours. Rightly, too, as it’s an absolute classic – although it’s also arguable as to whether it’s now a quite dated look.
Chances of seeing it on the grid in 2010? … and there’s the rub. Assuming the new Lotus team don’t sign a sponsorship deal that dictates their livery (in which case, all the speculation in this article is invalidated!), then a green car with yellow trim would seem the obvious design to go for. But how would it look on a 2010-spec car? Modern F1 cars can look great in green, but not since the early ’90s Benetton have we seen yellow and green together (and in that case, besides, the yellow of Camel was the dominant colour). Still, though, if they want to put “Lotus” in people’s minds, then it really is the only way to go: 8/10.
1968-1971 – Gold Leaf
It may not seem like that much to look at now, but the Gold Leaf Lotus is of course one of the most famous and significant liveries in F1 history – being the first ever sponsored Grand Prix car. As such, it employed a colour scheme never before seen on an F1 grid – predominantly red (but a more orangey shade of red than the Italian racing colours of the time) with a white undersection split by gold that ran down to a wider section on the nose. As such a trailblazer, it can’t really be judged by modern livery standards (particularly with regards to the implementation of sponsor logos, which are essentially just slapped-on stickers), but it’s not a bad-looking car at all, and pleasingly there’s an attempt to lay out the colours along the lines of the car, a crucial factor in good livery design.
Chances for 2010? Not high – despite being such an integral part of F1 history, red and gold aren’t associated with the Lotus “brand” at all, and it’s never a wise thing (unless you’ve got the brass neck of Frank Williams in the ’90s) to stick another red car on the grid alongside Ferrari anyway: 3/10
1970 – World Wide Racing
Sandwiched in among the last couple of years of the Gold Leaf era was this intriguing effort – I’m not sure the reasoning behind it, but this predominantly gold car, while slightly foreshadowing the JPS car in combining black as well, is quite unlike any other Lotus livery. It adorned the Lotus 56B, an unsuccessful attempt at replacing the famous Lotus 72, and only competed in three Grands Prix – hence, presumably, why it’s so hard to find out the story behind its use…
Chances for 2010? I suppose that gold has as much chance as any as being an arbitrary colour choice that the team might go with if they don’t decide to call back a famous era of Lotus history – but if they do, I highly doubt it would be in any sort of tribute to this car: 2/10.
1972-1978 – John Player Special
… well of course it’s the famous John Player Special livery. I was arguably a little unfair on this livery in only placing it at #10 in my all-time countdown – I suppose personal preference overrode its historical significance as possibly the most memorable (and fondly-remembered) livery in F1 history – not to mention the fact that I’ve never actually seen it “in action”, so perhaps I’d have placed it higher had I seen how it looks in motion rather than in still photographs. Still, what can’t be denied is that having already raced in a classic colour scheme in green and yellow, and then had the first sponsor-based livery, Lotus led the charge again by coming up with an entirely distinctive car that, moreso than arguably any other sponsor-based livery (I mean, the Marlboro McLaren is all well and good, but try arguing its uniqueness to an IndyCar fan), will be forever indelibly associated with a single team.
Chances for 2010? Well, it won’t be with JPS, obviously, due to the tobacco ban (and if that brand was ever going to return to the sport, you’d have expected it in the BAR days). But you never know – it would certainly be a way of fostering a bit of public affection for the team to paint the cars black and gold, so long as they could find a main sponsor who either already used, or didn’t mind being displayed in, the colours: 6/10.
1979-1980 – Various
With the end of the JPS deal (the first time, at least), Lotus returned to green for the first time in over a decade – but in 1979 it was a much more “modern” look and feel, with this metallic shade of green adorning the car alongside new sponsor Martini. Although Martini had earlier given us a much more classic livery on the Brabham (including the 1977 entry in my Top 25), their scheme still works surprisingly well (better than you suspect it should) alongside the chosen green. That said, it strikes me as a very American-looking car.
As does the next design, come to that, with tobacco company Essex – whose name had also adorned the side of the Martini car – taking over the whole car in 1980 for this blue design, the only time the colour has ever been used (aside from in sponsor’s lettering) on a Lotus. It’s flashy, but fairly basic for that, and I certainly don’t think it goes down as a classic.
Chances for 2010? Martini’s lines look great on an F1 car, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them adorn one again in the future – but I highly doubt it would be a Lotus, and certainly not a green one: 2/10. As for Essex, obviously that specific sponsor won’t join the team – but while I’d never usually expect a Lotus team to paint their cars a shiny blue, the fact that they’re owned by Proton means that as a predominant colour, it can’t be ruled out: the Proton logo sits on a blue background, echoing the canton of the Malaysian flag with its yellow crescent and star set on blue. So if we’re just taking the basic idea of a blue car, I’d give this: 5/10.
1981-1986 – John Player Special
In what might be one of the few examples of this ever happening in F1, having moved away from a famous livery for a brief time, Lotus returned to it in 1981 when JPS came back onboard as title sponsors. Early ’80s cars were a very different proposition aesthetically, compared to the last time the black and gold had adorned the Lotus, and it’s true that some of the designs of this era weren’t among the best. But on the other hand, it’s a classy enough livery that it still looked iconic and distinctive – and one of the most memorable F1 visuals of a generation is of the bright yellow helmet of Senna poking out of the car in the rain at Estoril, as he won his first grand prix in 1985.
1987-1990 – Camel
From one cigarette company to another, although – much as when West would later replace Marlboro on the ’98 McLaren – the new sponsor didn’t do a bad job of replacing a classic and iconic livery with a fairly memorable design of its own. It’s plain and simple, sure – but there’s something appealing about cars that take a two-colour scheme and ensure that all their sponsors (although in this instance, they only really had to worry about changing the elf and Honda logos) stick to it. Camel would come to dominate F1 sponsorship in the late ’80s/early ’90s (sponsoring, for a time, Benetton and Williams simultaneously), but this was easily their standout effort – and for me, it’s just as memorable a “Senna car” as the JPS.
Chances of seeing it in 2010? I’m going to stick my neck out here, and say there’s almost as much chance of the 2010 Lotus being yellow as there is it being green. Why do I reckon this? I’m not sure – perhaps it’s based on personal fondness for this livery, or the fact that since Jordan departed the sport has been crying out for a yellow car again. But despite having famously often had green cars, the Lotus logo is set against a large yellow background – and I just have a feeling that its current owners, Proton, will seek to make use of it across the car in an economic climate that’s unlikely to see them enter the sport with another major brand as title sponsor. Plus of course, there’s the fact that Proton’s own colours are yellow and… blue. So: 7/10.
1991 – Team Lotus
With Camel having departed, and no clear replacement title sponsor in sight, Lotus were back in the position of having to draw upon their own company identity for a livery. And so, for the first time in over a decade, green was back – only this time, split about 50/50 across the car with simple white, separated by yellow/gold trim. It’s a lovely livery, this, I think – spoiled only slightly by some inconsistent sponsor colouring (it’s quite bizarre that a BP logo in a lighter shade of green is allowed to sit on the darker green like that), it’s simple and classic without being too flashy. Sadly, with a new title sponsor around the corner, this new visual identity would only last for a single season…
Chances for 2010? If the new team don’t want just to go with green and yellow,then white would seem the obvious colour to put into the mix – especially as a frustrating habit for F1 teams in recent years has been to paint their cars predominantly white, leading to plenty of indistinguishability. A variant of this design, or something like it, certainly wouldn’t therefore be out of the question: 7/10.
1992-1993 – Castrol
As I’ve already discussed, I’m quite fond of the 1992 Lotus, and it made it to number 15 in my all-time favourites list. Simply put, it shows how to put the classic green and yellow onto a modern car and make it work – largely by combining with a very dark grey (note that it’s not quite black) that takes care of all the “peripheral” car parts (wings etc.) in an effective and tidy manner. The large Castrol logo across the engine cover looks good, and it’s only a shame – as I said when writing up the Top 25 entry – that there’s a surfeit of sponsor logos, and that some of them are in boxes that cut into the livery’s dividing lines.
Still, it’s tidier than the ’93 car, which added red and white into the mix and removed the yellow almost entirely. In fact, I think keeping in the yellow actually lets this car down, as it doesn’t go hugely well with the red – a shame, as I think red, white and green is an underused and potentially very good set of colours for an F1 car. This suffers again from an overload of sponsors, though – and is it Hitachi that are controlling the colour scheme now, or still Castrol?
Chances for 2010? As discussed above, a predominantly green and yellow livery is probably the most likely way for Lotus to go next year – so something like the 1992 car could be seen: 8/10. As for the ’93 effort, though, only a major sponsor with a desire to bring red to the car would surely lead to that combination of colours, so it doesn’t seem hugely likely: 4/10.
1994 – Team Lotus
For Lotus’ last season in F1 (to date), Castrol exited stage left, and the team were again left without a major sponsor to shape the colour scheme. Hence, it was back to the previously established white and green identity – although this time it included an increased amount of yellow, and also some grey flourishes in quite a distinctive pattern draped across the car. This element of the design actually works really well, but sadly – as with so many cars of the time – the number of different (and differently-coloured) sponsor logos jostling for space on the car break up the flowing lines, and I’ve never been convinced by yellow rear wing endplates when the wing itself is darker. Nevertheless, on the whole it’s a good combination of colours.
Chances for 2010? If the team are planning to plaster the Lotus brand across the car, then we could well see something this as an alternative to simple green and/or yellow. As mentioned above, white is a colour that could set off the “classic” pair, and if they opt for something other than simple lines, it could come out looking like the ’94 car – certainly, not exactly like it, but the overall weighting of colours and “racecar” feel of the livery could be repeated: 6/10.
So that’s the Lotus livery history – an exciting and varied one, despite the team arguably having one of the strongest corporate identites of any team courtesy of its classic green and yellow logo. Sadly, while I’m sure the new team will come up with something decent, it seems unlikely that any future car from “Lotus F1” will enter the annals of design history in the same way that so many “Team Lotus”es did – but we can but hope.
Coming up next in Livery Histories : Jordan. And if you like your speculation, then as the 2010 season draws nearer I’ll start to have a look at what colour schemes I reckon the assorted new and existing F1 teams might stick on their cars…