Thursday, 23 April 2009

Their name is Lola, they are a race team...

Allan McNish drives Lola's 1995 prototype F1 car at Silverstone (Image:

No doubt those of you who avidly follow Autosport Magazine's ever-popular website will know that yesterday the world renowned and world-famous race car manufacturer Lola made it known their considerations for a re-entry into Formula 1. It certainly came as a completely out of the blue announcement and pretty much shocked myself and my closest friends who associate with F1 in the same way I do. Certainly the last time we heard Lola and F1 associated together, it wasn't for anything good.

For those who are unaware of the Lola Group and what they do, they are pretty much one of motorsport's most productive race car constructors and have been for some 40 years. But when it comes to F1, their record isn't as glistening as it may be in other formulas such as IndyCar/Champ Car or sportscar racing for example. Despite the Lola Mk4, run by Reg Parnell's team, taking pole position in the hands of John Surtees on its first F1 appearance, the company have never seemed to get F1 and success to go hand in hand together. In fact their only victories came in partnership with Honda from Richie Ginther and Surtees respectively. That relationship soon ended and we didn't see the name Lola in F1 again until the 70s.

At that time, double world champion Graham Hill, father of 1996 world champion Damon, commisioned them to build a car for his new Embassy Racing team. While it looked more like a Formula 5000 car than F1, it was never really successful and the partnership only scored 1 point in its entirety. It quickly ended after 2 seasons and Lola disappeared off the scene once again until 1985, when a new partnership with Carl Haas, one half of the successful Newman/Haas/Lanigan IndyCar team (as it's now known), came to be for his Beatrice Foods-backed F1 team. Patrick Tambay and 1980 champion Alan Jones drove for them for two seasons with the best results being 4th and 5th respectively in Austria in '86.

After this came a link-up with Larrousse which resulted in Aguri Suzuki scored an amazing 3rd place at Suzuka which sent the Japanese fans wild. But it still wasn't enough. The partnership ended before the 1991 season, and they weren't seen again until 1993 where they tried another project with Scuderia Italia which, despite the Ferrari engine, failed miserably. Then came the infamous saga in 1997 when, after building the 1995 prototype as pictured above, they made a beeline for the 12th spot on the F1 roster. They successfully secured it, but the investors were impatient in wanting the car finished quickly. As a result, it was literally a case of going from the drawing board straight into building it, with no CFD and a miniscule amount of wind tunnel testing. The car was rushed to Melbourne without even turning a wheel and when it came to qualifying, the fastest time between the two drivers (Vincenzo Sospiri and Ricardo Rosset) was some 14 seconds off pole man Jacques Villeneuve. Thus, they failed to qualify and seeing this, their title sponsor Mastercard upped sticks and left along with all the other sponsors they had, leaving them broke and unable to continue. The cars turned up at Interlagos 2 weeks later, but the covers on them were never taken off and that was that.

But just because they haven't been a success in F1 doesn't mean they're a failure in general. Lola's cars have been some of the best around in the lower single seater formulas and other series such as IndyCar/ Champ Car and sportscars. Not only that, but they have been the designer of cars for Formula Nippon, Formula 3000 and A1GP which have all been great looking cars that still provide great racing. Their sportscar record isn't the most successful but Lola have made some recognisable favourites including the T70, the Lola-MG EX prototypes and more recently their own LMP1 closed prototype and Aston Martin's new LMP1, which managed a sensational debut victory just a couple of weekends ago at the LMS season opener at Barcelona.

So can they actually last more than about 3 or 4 years in the sport without having to pull out? I say on this occasion: yes. Reason? Look at what they've done since the shameful 1997 pull-out. They've got brilliant facilities which have enabled them to produce some wonderful cars which, despite not being the best or the fastest, haven't exactly been flops. Plus by being the main supplier for 4 seperate one-make single seater series, they've still been keeping their hand in with Formula cars. All this under the guidance of Martin Birrane who, after taking over from Eric Broadley, has transformed the company dramatically.

At the moment they're only considering it, but with Bernie confirming there will be 3 new teams on the grid for next season, and with USF1 pretty much owning one of them already, Birrane has said himself that the facilities they've built up since '97 can easily be adapted for the development of an F1 car. The only other info we know is that should they go ahead with it, it's extremely likely they'll go with the "FIA engine" from Cosworth. Because of the cheap, cost-effective engine and transmission package the governing body can provide teams, new or exsiting, an easy way to either get started or stay in the sport without it costing the earth. Yes, I know the Cosworth engine is 4 years old and useless, but to be fair it's the only way for those new teams coming in who, despite the propsed budget cap set to be enforced for next season onwards, can't afford a customer deal with an existing engine supplier.

Perhaps the FIA can do as Renault were allowed to and upgrade the Cosworth unit to bring it up to spec with the current crop of engines currently under the engine freeze (which is set to finish at the end of 2011). That way these teams which decide to go with this package won't suck! As for Lola, well I do hope it all comes good. Personally, I think they build good and fairly quick machines. Whether their efforts will be good enough for the pinnacle of motorsport once again - well, it's early days yet, but I'd certainly like to think so, wouldn't you?


sidepodcast said...

now that is a fugly car!

LukehMuse said...

I quite look forward to them coming into f1, and the more cars the better personally. They're gonna be a whole lot better than that embarrasment of an entry in 1997 for sure, let's be fair, they can only go up from that!

But yeah... that is one ugly car!

Woodwiss_F1 said...

That mid section definately screams Champ Car.