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  Lotus 72 Cosworth

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Country of origin:Great Britain
Produced from:1970 - 1975
Numbers built:9
Designed by:Maurice Philippe / Colin Chapman for Lotus
Predecessor:Lotus 49B Cosworth
Successor:Lotus 76 Cosworth
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:February 15, 2008
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Click here to download printer friendly versionIn the 1960s the presentation of a new Lotus Formula 1 racer was a rare occasion. Lotus introductions were highly anticipated since they always included some revolutionary design ideas. Once a car was introduced it would usually serve for a few seasons, and not just one; impossible in current day F1 racing, but fine for Colin Chapman's Lotus. In that decade chassis design was first turned upside down with the monocoque Lotus 25 in 1962 and then engine design was taken in a new direction with the load bearing Cosworth DFV engine in the Lotus 49. By 1970 the Lotus 49 was ready for upgrades, and not surprisingly its replacement was again well ahead of the field.

Launched at the second race of the 1970 season, the all-new Lotus 72 was the final step from the 1950s and 1960s cigar shape to the sharp look of the current single seaters. The front mounted single radiator previously used was replaced by two smaller radiators mounted on either side of the cockpit. This had both the advantage of better weight distribution and improved aerodynamics. The radiators were mounted in two big fiberglass ducts, which would later be known as sidepods. The chisel shaped nose pierced through the air much better than the rather blunt air intakes of earlier designs.

Designer Maurice Philippe also focused on keeping the unsprung weight to a minimum for ideal handling. This refers to the mass that is moving independently from the chassis; the suspension arms and wheels for example. On the Lotus 72 this was achieved by relocating both the front and rear brakes inboard and cooling them with two NACA ducts in the nose and two funnels above the brakes. With a traditional radiator setup it would have been much more complicated to move the front brakes. Another novelty was the use of torsion bars instead of the more common coil springs, which further reduced the unsprung weight. The suspension also featured anti-dive geometry, which was later abandoned.

Unlike its predecessors the Lotus 72 was not an immediate success, and after its first race problems forced Lotus to revert to the old 49. Now in its fourth season, Jochen Rindt drove the 49 to a final victory at the 1970 Monaco Grand Prix. Two races later at the Dutch Grand Prix, the Lotus 72 with revised suspension made its return and showed its true worth with Jochen Rindt winning four races in a row. Unfortunately the Austrian driver crashed fatally in the Parabolica corner at Monza after one of the shafts to the inboard front brakes failed. Rindt had however gathered enough points from previous races to be posthumously crowned World Champion at the end of the season. When Lotus returned two races later, Emerson Fittipaldi drove his 72 to victory, just like Graham Hill had done after Jim Clark's fatal accident.

In Lotus tradition, a virtually unchanged Lotus 72 was entered in 1971, but with remarkably little success. A possible reason was the preoccupation with developing a turbine engined Formula 1 racer; not all Lotus' designs proved to be successful. In the off-season after, the 72 received the proper development and debuted in 1972 with a new livery and look. The red, white and gold of long time sponsor Gold Leaf was replaced by the black and gold of John Player Special. A large airbox was mounted on top of the engine to force feed cool air into the intake trumpets and the rear wing was shifted further back.

Emerson Fittipaldi displayed throughout the season that there was plenty of life left in the two year old design. With five victories and a number of point finishes he took the driver's title and almost single-handedly won the constructor's crown for Lotus as well. Three years after its conception the Lotus 72 took another eight victories with Fittipaldi only beaten by his new team mate Ronnie Peterson who scored four wins. It was not enough for another driver's crown, but Lotus again proved to be the best constructor. A proper replacement was developed for 1974, but the advanced Lotus 76 did not prove enough of an improvement and Lotus brought the 72 out of retirement for a fifth season.

Fittipaldi had already left the team before the season start and joined McLaren where he would win his second driver's crown. Despite driving a four year old car Ronnie Peterson managed to score three victories, which at the end of the season was good for a fifth driver standings position, and a fourth for Lotus behind McLaren, Ferrari and Tyrrell. Problems with the road car division of Lotus shuffled Formula 1 down the priority ladder temporarily, which left Peterson and teammate Jacky Ickx no other choice but to take to the track yet again with the 'senior citizen' of the grid. Unfortunately this final season resulted in the bulk of the competition clearly outpacing the old Lotus. A retirement after the three victories in 1974 would have been much more appropriate.

With twenty victories in championship races, two driver's and three constructor's titles, the Lotus 72 remains as one of the most successful designs ever to line up for a Formula 1 race. Remarkably Lotus repeated again two years later when they kick-started the ground effects era with the Lotus 78 of 1977; the fourth revolution ignited by the Hethel based team in less than two decades. It is unfortunate that the modern Formula 1 rules have become so strict that there is no room for the experimentation that spawned revolutionary cars like the 72.

In total nine chassis numbers were attributed to Lotus 72 although a heavily damaged R1 was rebuilt as R4, so there were never more than eight cars. Today it is believed that eight cars have survived after both R1 and R2 were written off in the fatal 1970 Monza weekend. Both accidents were apparently caused by failed brake shafts. Of the surviving cars quite a few are still used actively with at least one campaigned by Classic Team Lotus and several others by privateers.

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  Article Image gallery (28) Chassis (3) Specifications User Comments (2)