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Industry Innovators: Formula One and Motorsport Pioneers

  • by: James Plant
  • On: 1, Aug 2017
2 min read

Motorsport is one of the most cutting-edge areas of engineering, and has made massive strides in both speed and safety over the 20th Century.

How Lotus Changed Motorsport

Visionary Automotive engineer Colin Chapman (1928-1982) founded Lotus Engineering Co., Ltd. in 1952. A key influencer to the Motorsport industry, Chapman evidences that passion, creativity and sheer willpower can triumph over wealth and prestige.

In an industry then dominated by powerhouses like Ferrari and Maserati, Chapman spearheaded the designs that would become essential to the sport we know and love.

Innovation has always been at the heart of Formula One: what first present themselves as challenges can often prove the catalyst to driving Motorsport forward. Building his Automotive business and reputation right from the ground, Chapman’s innovations and commitment to excellence finally achieved success.

He had a background in both the aviation and metal industries – he was a flying officer with the RAF and worked at the British Aluminum Company. This provided him invaluable insight into aerodynamic forces and chassis constitution for racing cars.

Chapman championed a minimalistic philosophy with the core belief that, "Adding power makes you faster on the straights – Subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere." Whilst the big names in Automotive, including Ferrari, were aiming for more powerful machines, Chapman focused on simplifying the car structure, removing unnecessary parts and maximising functionality.

Champan’s Lotus was born through losing as much weight as possible, experimenting with light yet hard composite materials and using his aerodynamic expertise to decrease drag and air resistance, especially whilst cornering.

Chapman’s aerodynamic inventions to generate downforce (and keep the car on the ground while turning) include front wings for the Lotus 49B and removing the radiators from the front of the car (while placing them on the sides) to decrease resistance and concentrate the overall weight of the machine on its centre.

Lotus applied ‘the ground effect’, making use of venturis and sliding skirts to maintain high pressure over the car and low pressure underneath, increasing stability during turning. Chapman’s ideas remain essentials of Motorsport engineering even today.

Chapman’s “Weight first, Power second” philosophy introduced the monocoque chassis (a composite of fiberglass never previously used on racing cars) for the Lotus Elite and Lotus 25. The chassis evolved into an aluminum monocoque used for the Lotus 29 which competed at Indianapolis in 1962.

Chapman transformed Automotive techniques for producing car chassis and his method remains the standard procedure to this day (using carbon fiber instead of aluminum). Champan’s genius can also be credited with Formula One advertising and sponsorship: Chapman first secured a tobacco sponsor for his car in 1968.

Champan’s Lotus 7 best represents his engineering principles. The Lotus 7 was the starting point of Chapman’s success in Motorsport and since 1957 has been reproduced several times by a variety of car manufacturers. Today, a model of the Lotus 7 is still produced by British manufacturer Caterham Cars. The ‘Caterham 7’ is a tribute to its creator: a man who triumphed over titans to transform the Motorsport industry.

Read what it's like to be an F1 engineer, or learn the best motorsport companies to work for

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