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  Article Image gallery (26) 88/1 Specifications  
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Country of origin:Great Britain
Produced in:1981
Numbers built:3
Designed by:Colin Chapman with Peter Wright, Tony Rudd and Martin Ogilvie
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:January 05, 2012
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Click here to download printer friendly versionPioneered in Formula 1 by Lotus during the 1977 season, 'ground effect' aerodynamics had quickly been adapted by the full grid. As simple as it is efficient, 'ground effect' uses a wing-shaped floor to generate a low pressure area under the car. This means additional downforce without the drag created by conventional wings. As a result the 'ground effect' F1 cars could run less or no wings to increase the top speed down the straights and still go through corners faster than ever before.

Key elements of the original design were sliding skirts fitted along the sides of the car. These ensured the vacuum was maintained regardless of suspension travel. Concerned about the incredible cornering speeds achieved by the 'ground effect' cars, the sport's governing body banned these skirts ahead of the 1981 season on the grounds of being moveable aerodynamic devises. Caring little for driver comfort or drivability, the engineers addressed this 'problem' by simply setting the cars up with even stiffer suspension.

Having lost the original advantage to rivals like Williams, Ligier and Brabham, Lotus devised the ingenious, experimental Type 86 in 1980 that consisted of not one but two chassis. Even before the ban of the sliding skirts, its twin chassis configuration was a solution for the stiff suspension that optimised the ground effect. The complicated machine featured a separate body that was bolted to the suspension, feeding all the downforce directly onto the uprights. Inside the ground effect 'cocoon' a conventionally sprung monocoque was used.

With the body attached directly to the suspension uprights, it also remained at the same height in relation to the track surface, making the twin chassis configuration even more interesting following the sliding skirts ban. Despite concerns over protests from the rivals, this convinced Chapman to press on with a twin chassis Formula 1 racer for the 1981 season. The new Type 88 did follow the same ideas as the experimental 86 but for the design, the Colin Chapman led team started with a clean sheet of paper.

A significant change was the use of composite materials for the primary chassis. It differed from the McLaren MP4/1 developed almost simultaneously in that Chapman specified Kevlar reinforcing for the chassis. He, like many of his colleagues, felt that a bare carbon fibre tub would not be strong enough to take the enormous loads, particularly in an accident. Bolted to the chassis as a fully stressed member was the familiar Cosworth DFV V8 engine. Suspension was also fully conventional with double wishbones all around.

The secondary chassis featured a ladder type frame with three cross-members the flanks of the body serving as the side members. Enclosed by the one-piece body and under-body, this second chassis also housed the side-pods with the radiators. It was bolted to the uprights with small springs to allow for independent suspension travel. The full length ground effect tunnels generated the vast majority of the downforce with the relatively small front and rear wings used for trimming purposes only.

Lotus had one 88 ready for the 1981 season opening Long Beach Grand Prix for Elio de Angelis. Not surprisingly, it was welcomed by a sea of protest from the rivalling teams. They claimed the entire secondary chassis was in fact a moveable aerodynamic device, which were illegal. Although the car did pass the scrutineering, the stewards later ruled in favour of the complainers and removed the car from the race. At that point, De Angelis had used the 88 in one practice session where he was well over a second off the pace. He and team-mate Nigel Mansell raced the conventional Lotus 81 instead.

Colin Chapman felt the ban in Long Beach was unjustified and again brought the 88 out for the next round. It proved to be a reprise of events with the unconventional Lotus passing scutineering and then being kicked out at the end of the first day by the stewards. Race three saw the car not even passing scrutineering. The official explanation was that the Lotus 88, while strictly legal, did not comply with the spirit of the regulations. A furious Chapman withdrew from the next race and returned with a race later with the Lotus 87, which used the composite 88 tub with a conventional body.

This was not the end of the Lotus 88 yet as Chapman reworked the car to 'B' specification for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. He figured that by adding more of the car's components to the secondary chassis, it would become one of two sprung chassis. It was another case of history repeating with the 88Bs being allowed to practice but subsequently banned for the race. Overnight the cars were rebuilt to 87 specification but to add insult to injury, Mansell failed to qualify for his and the team's home Grand Prix.

Chapman finally accepted the defeat and Team Lotus soldiered on with the 87 for the remainder of the season. Due to the legal issues the twin-chassis Lotus 88 was never allowed to show its true potential, so we will never know just how good Chapman's last bold idea was. On paper it certainly looked like an interesting solution to improve the drivability of the ground effect cars. The governing body solved the problem a year later by banning ground effect aerodynamics all together ahead of the 1983 season.

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  Article Image gallery (26) 88/1 Specifications