Lola Racing Cars in F1; Where did it go so wrong?

For readers of Autosport, you know this question. But it’s not the whole story. You might say that Lola had some of the worst F1 cars to date, but when did you ever decide to build a racing car on a £2 million budget?

Lola did, and it was okay. I will go into every bit of detail regarding the Lola Formula One Team that applied for entry in the 2010 FiA Formula One World Championship – an offer that the FiA refused.

Lola Racing Cars built the Mark 4 in 1962 and entered it with the Bowmaker-Yeoman Racing Team with John Surtees and Roy Salvadori as the driving team. In it’s first race, Surtees claimed it’s first Pole Position. It never scored the win at that race or at any point during it’s life, but it did bring points home. After this, and after victory in the non-championship race in 1963 at Rome, Lola decided that Formula One was not for them, and pulled out.

In 1967, Lola again paired up with John Surtees and designed the Honda Racing RA300 – a collaboration between Lola and Honda Racing as the car it was based on (with only Honda working on it) with an unknown chassis designation was too heavy at design. Lola were in the Indy 500 at the time, and the Honda RA300 was based on that. It did win the 1967 Italian Grand Prix where Ferrari are normally strong. It was called the ‘Hondola’ at the time, quite a cool name for a cool car. Go Honda.

Honda RA300 'Hondola'

It was not until 1987 when Lola tried again with the Larrousse Team. An engine was first built from Cosworth but the chassis was based from Lola’s effort in the Formula 3000, the Formula One feeder series.

At the time, Turbos and Normally Aspirated Engines made war against power, reliability and cost. But basing a car upon a feeder series is not a good move. (I could never see HRT F1 Team base their car on the GP2 car; oh wait they did, and look what happened.)

Larrousse got on with it, Eric Bernard and Aguri Suzuki got some great results in 1989 when the team was powered by the F1 version of the legendary Lamborghini V12 brought to the team by partner, Didier Calmels as that had ditched the Cosworth units. Calmels was arrested for the murder of his wife later on in 1989 and the Lamborghini engines were gone.

In 1990, the continued with the Cosworth power they had once started with. Although the Chris Murphy designed car was a Lola, not a Larrousse; Larrousse decided to enter the car as Larrousse-Cosworth, not Lola-Cosworth. They lost all their constructors points for 1990.

The next team for Lola to offer their services was BMS Scuderia Italia. In 1993, Scuderia Italia turned to Lola, but in previous years used Dallara chassis (Dallara being the arch-enemy of Lola). With a new Lola chassis, customer Ferrari engines and Michele Alboreto and Luca Badoer things looked good for the Scuderia. It was so not; the car was cumbersome and slow.  The Ferrari engines were far off their brothers and sisters at Scuderia Ferrari as they were customer units.

Although, the Scuderia Italia team did come 7th in San Marino thanks to a sterling drive by ex-Ferrari Tester Luca Badoer. But then, no championship points were given to the 7th place finisher; but only to the top six. That was the highlight of the year for Lola and Scuderia Italia.

1993 Scuderia Italia

Lola built many, many test cars in 1994 and 1995 using a Cosworth V8 with the ambition of running a works Ford team. The Cosworth V8s would become Ford and they were given to Bennetton. Although rumor has it is that Cosworth V12s would actually go to Bennetton and the works Lola Ford entry would get the V8s. Little was achieved and the V12 project was as good as dead.

Being British, Lola never give up. In 1998, they planned to enter the championship in their own right; a Works Lola team. But, thanks to a big name sponsor of Mastercard, Lola decided to enter the 1997 championship thanks to pressure from Mastercard. Mastercard hoped for good results like podiums; something that is hard to find in a first year of racing. An Al Melling V10 engine was in development but the Lola started racing with ED V8s from Ford; which were old and underpowered.

The team sent cars to Australia, things looked good from the outside; but it wasn’t. The Lola was never tested in a windtunnel and by 1997, all cars even the Minardi and Arrows were tested in the windtunnel. You see, Lola had a windtunnel but a car was a year behind in its development thanks to Mastercard’s decision to enter a year earlier.

A team went with the cars with Vincenzo Sospiri and Ricardo Rosset as the drivers. That line-up of the F3000 World Champion and it’s runner up was a good move by Lola. It came to qualifying for the team to show off it’s brand new T97/30 machine to the world. Jacques Villeneuve in the Williams scored pole with a time 1.29.369 at the 3.295 mile circuit in Melbourne, Australia.  Next up, the Lola team. Fastest was Sospiri with a very fast time of 1.40.972.

When I mean fast I mean that some of Lola’s F3000 cars could match that. Both cars Did Not Qualify for that race – a vast amount of embarrassment for Lola and Mastercard whom ‘bigged up’ the squad and who were hoping for great results. Believe me when I say this, a DNQ in pink on Wikipedia does not look good, for any driver or team.

1997 MasterCard Lola

Now, Lola indeed sent the cars to Interlagos for the next race at Brazil but during the flight over, Lola were informed that Mastercard withdrew their sponsorship. Lola were broke. No money meant no race, no race means expense paid to bring the cars back to the UK. A poor showing by Mastercard in my opinion. Lola could build a car, but it needed work in a tunnel; something Lola had and were bound to use. Lola went bust after this but were bought out by an Irish gentleman of Eric Broadley.

During the next 10 years, Lola battled with Dallara to break the dominance of Formula One feeders series as a constructor. Thing’s didn’t go to plan. Dallara dominate F3, GP2, GP3 and many others on the road to the pinnacle of Motorsport in Europe. They did enter Le Mans 24 Hours with the ProDrive Aston Martin team. The did get results, but never winning the Le Mans 24 hours.

Lola Aston Martin LMP1

In 2009, Lola bid to enter the F1 World Championship for 2010. Since the last time Lola entered F1 in 1997, the company had a overhaul in terms of staff and boardroom staff. Lola go to work. They decided to use the Cosworth engine, mandatory by all new teams entering that year and use Xtrac gearboxes like Hispania Racing Team and Lotus Racing with only Virgin Racing going with a different third part. (The aborted and broke USF1 team would of produced their own gearbox different from all the teams – somehow, I don’t think it would of been good!)

Anyway, Lola was ahead of every single applicant in of the process in having a team and a basic car already in the windtunnel. Lola had a technical team with technical director, they had engineers and they had mechanics on hand to produce the car.

2010 Lola F1 (Unnamed)

And they did. Lola produced a car in the windtunnel. It was being tested before the FiA’s final verdict. Okay, the car was basic but none the less, it was a car one that if you produced, it would work well! And, it was kept in the dark. USF1 team produced YouTube videos on ‘How to construct a Front Wing’ and others, and what do you know, that wing was never used because USF1 were broke.

Lola were to to be frank; if they would of entered in 2010, they would have no sponsors because it would of been on a budget and completely funded in house. Virgin did this also, their 2010 VR-01 was confined to a £30 million budget, and yet they still showed bits of speed, something that Nick Wirth was never used to. Again, unlike Virgin Racing or USF1, the car was designed using CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) and a windtunnel.

Designing a car using computers only is completly stupid in my opinion, being an Engineering student, we analyse things on the computer, but then we build and analyse it. CFD is cheaper than the tunnel, but has many drawbacks. (I’ll discuss CFD and CAD in Motorsport and how Mazda designed the MX-5 using this in a future post.)

Lola did spend money on their bid for F1 life. They had the windtunnel, the computers for CFD and the staff at hand anyway but it cost as F1 does. No price was put on it, but I estimate it to be around £7 million. Lola, being Lola did not give up. Since USF1 rudely decided to pull out at the last minute, there has been a final grid slot vacant. Lola hope they can gain this slot in 2014, once the current regulations will be taken over by the new ‘greener’ regulations staring lower downforce, new V6 Turbo engines and more powerful KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System). Lola cannot start developing the car due to rules in the Concorde Agreement and the FiA rule book.

Out of all the teams that applied and all of the enteries that did get through to being on the grid, the Lola project was the most credible. I mean, I would back the Lola squad.

They learnt their lesson, management changed and they gained experience in Le Mans. Lola are one of the best constructors in the world. I mean that. Like I mean that the Paul Stoddart run Minardi F1 Team had some of the best designed cars on the grid. I would welcome Lola back to F1 and I do hope they do well.

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