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  Article Image gallery (53) Chassis (4) Specifications  
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Country of origin:Great Britain
Produced in:1980
Numbers built:4
Internal name:Type 81
Predecessor:Lotus 80 Cosworth
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:May 11, 2020
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Click here to download printer friendly versionTeam Lotus reaped the rewards of pioneering ground effect aerodynamics in Formula 1 by winning the World Championship in 1978 with Mario Andretti. Keen to maintain the advantage, the Colin Chapman run team pushed the envelope too far the following year with the overly complex and hugely disappointing Type 80. The 1979 season turned out to be very costly, literally, as new sponsor Martini decided to withdraw its funding for 1980. With limited funding, courtesy of Monaco-based Essex Petroleum, Team Lotus developed the altogether more conventional Type 81 to bounce back from the disastrous title defence.

The Type 81 made a dramatic public debut in December of 1979 as it was lowered from the ceiling of the Paradis Latin Nightclub in Paris. This was for good reason as the ground effect aerodynamics relied on the shape of the floor of the car. To seal off the low pressure area underneath the car, sliding skirts were fitted on the sides of the car. Whereas the Type 80 featured elaborate curved skirts, the Type 81 had more conventional straight skirts mounted inside the full-length side-pods. To allow for a clean airflow through the downforce generating tunnels, the Type 81 featured in-board rear suspension actuated through rockers.

What was carried over from the Type 80 was the sheet aluminium monocoque chassis. Like most Grand Prix cars of the day, the rear half of the chassis was made up of the Cosworth DFV engine that served as a fully stressed member. The in-board rear springs were mounted inside the bell-housing that connected the V8 and the Hewland FGA gearbox. At the front, the suspension was through double wishbones. The stopping power was provided by ventilated discs mounted on all four corners. The Type 81 was clothed in glass reinforced plastic and Kevlar body that was painted in the striking Essex Petroleum livery of dark blue with chrome sides.

The Type 81 debuted at the season opening Argentinean Grand Prix with Mario Andretti and young talent Elio de Angelis at the wheel. They qualified on the third row of the grid but both were forced to retire with mechanical issues. De Angelis bounced back with a promising second at the Brazilian Grand Prix. It turned out to be a rare highlight during another difficult season for Team Lotus. Compared to the dominant Williams FW07B, the Type 81 proved too heavy. In order to cure some of the issues, a B-specification with a long wheelbase was introduced halfway through the season. Regardless, the best results after the second in Brazil were a pair of fourth place finishes for De Angelis in Austria and at Watkins Glen.

Despite the lack of performance during the 1980 season, the Type 81 had to be pressed back in action for the start of the 1981 season. Now re-finished in John Player Special colours, it was used by De Angelis and new signing Nigel Mansell until the Type 87 and the twin chassis Type 88 were ready. Mansell did remarkably well by finishing third in the Belgian Grand Prix using the year-old Type 81.

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  Article Image gallery (53) Chassis (4) Specifications