Top 10 Lotus F1 cars ranked: 49, 72, 79 and more

Lotus can recall its own hall of fame for Formula 1 cars across its illustrious history which boasts some of the most dominant and successful efforts the championship has ever seen. But which one comes out on top? Kevin Turner picks the best and explains why

Top 10 Lotus F1 cars ranked: 49, 72, 79 and more

More than a quarter of a century since the original Team Lotus closed its doors, the legendary British constructor is still one of the most successful in Formula 1 history.

The 79 world championship F1 wins scored by the firm founded by Colin Chapman puts Lotus fifth in the table, behind Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Williams, and one spot ahead of Red Bull. It also scored seven constructors’ and six drivers’ crowns, and in the 1970s briefly overtook Ferrari as the most successful F1 manufacturer in terms of victories.

To produce this list we considered a number of factors, including the level of success each car scored, how important and innovative they were, and how iconic they are. We have ignored the times when the Lotus name has been brought back, first by the Malaysian-backed team that later became Caterham and then the Enstone-based ‘Lotus’ between its different Renault eras, so this is strictly 1958-94.

Note: Wins are world championship grand prix wins, non-championship successes are not included.

10. Lotus 107

Mika Hakkinen in the Lotus-Ford 107 at the 1992 Australian GP

Mika Hakkinen in the Lotus-Ford 107 at the 1992 Australian GP

Photo by: Ercole Colombo / Motorsport Images

Year: 1992-94
Wins: 0
Drivers’ titles: 0
Constructors’ titles: 0

Lotus, under different management, was in its declining years in the early 1990s, but Chris Murphy’s 107 was a neat, attractive and competitive car that was a points scorer across two seasons and lifted Lotus back into the top six of the world championship.

With the 102, Lotus had slumped to 13th fastest in 1991, but it leapt to sixth the following year. Mika Hakkinen and Johnny Herbert used the customer Ford HB V8-engined 107 and were often threats for points – when they were only awarded to the top six. Reliability was a problem, but the 107 was good enough to take Lotus to fifth in the constructors’ championship, its best result since 1988.

The car was developed into 107B spec for 1993 and ran active suspension, with Herbert scoring the lion’s share of the points alongside new team-mate Alex Zanardi.

Budget restrictions meant Lotus was never likely to challenge the era’s big hitters Williams, McLaren, Benetton and Ferrari, but had topped the midfield in 1992 and was sixth overall, behind Ligier, the following year.

The 107C, now with Mugen-Honda V10 power, started the 1994 campaign, after all the gizmos had been banned. It was replaced by the 109, but Team Lotus was already on the financial slippery slope that led to its closure at the end of the season.

9. Lotus-Climax 12

Cliff Allison in the Lotus-Climax 12 at the 1958 French GP

Cliff Allison in the Lotus-Climax 12 at the 1958 French GP

Photo by: LAT Photographic / Motorsport Images

Year: 1958
Wins: 0
Drivers’ titles: 0
Constructors’ titles: 0

Chapman always wanted to push the boundaries so it’s perhaps no surprise that his first F1 car wasn’t conservative. It was lightweight – something that would become a Lotus hallmark – had disc brakes, magnesium ‘wobbly web’ wheels and a novel sequential-style gearbox.

Originally an F2 car, the 12 had to make do with a two-litre Coventry Climax engine when Team Lotus made its first F1 world championship start at the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix. That grew to 2.2-litres, but it was still underpowered compared to its 2.5-litre rivals.

Cliff Allison finished in the top 10 in all but one of his 1958 world championship starts and took the team’s first points at the Belgian GP. That race could have yielded even more as winner Tony Brooks suffered gearbox failure as his Vanwall crossed the line, second-placed Mike Hawthorn’s Ferrari’s engine gave up on the final tour, and the suspension of Stuart Lewis-Evans’s Vanwall collapsed.

“That remarkable little Lotus was never nearer creating a major sensation!” reported Autosport’s Gregor Grant.

Chapman introduced the 16, which has proved its worth in historic racing, before the end of the season but reliability would stymy the sleek machine. That would be a recurring problem throughout the years of Lotus innovation, but the 12 had been a signal of intent.

8. Lotus-Honda 99T

Ayrton Senna in the Lotus-Honda 99T at the 1987 Austrian GP

Ayrton Senna in the Lotus-Honda 99T at the 1987 Austrian GP

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Year: 1987
Wins: 2
Drivers’ titles: 0
Constructors titles: 0

The last great F1 Lotus innovator? The team had been developing active suspension for several years and put the system, which brought extra weight but was more comfortable particularly on street circuits, on its 1987 challenger.

The 98T had won two races in 1986, finishing third in the constructors’ championship, and aside from the arrival of active suspension the other big difference in the 99T was its engine, Honda replacing Renault.

Unlike its predecessors, the 99T was not a particularly potent qualifying car – Ayrton Senna took one pole, as opposed to 15 scored across the previous two campaigns – but the active suspension helped look after the tyres.

Senna used this to finish third in the drivers’ championship and scored eight podiums, including wins at Monaco and Detroit, despite the car’s aerodynamic limitations. Those successes were the first for a car with active suspension F1 – and the last for Team Lotus.

7. Lotus-Renault 97T

Ayrton Senna in the Lotus-Renault 97T leads the start of the 1985 British GP

Ayrton Senna in the Lotus-Renault 97T leads the start of the 1985 British GP

Photo by: LAT Photographic / Motorsport Images

Year: 1985
Wins: 3
Drivers’ titles: 0
Constructors titles: 0

Designer Gerard Ducarouge’s 95T was probably unfortunate not to win a race in 1984 but the next car put that right.

The Renault-engined 97T took three victories, the first post-Chapman Lotus to win a world championship race.

New recruit Senna and Elio de Angelis proved a potent line-up, the Brazilian proving faster and taking seven poles to de Angelis’s one, while the Italian had the better finishing record. He only finished five points behind Senna in the standings and Lotus matched Williams’s tally in the 1985 constructors’ table.

The 97T also has a special place in F1 history as the car in which Senna scored his first – and arguably finest – GP victory in appalling conditions at Estoril.

Senna was a leading contender next time out at Imola before running out of fuel, de Angelis taking the win after on-the-road victor Alain Prost’s McLaren was found to be underweight.

Senna would lead more laps than any other driver during the season but had to wait for September’s Belgian GP before adding another victory on his way to fourth in the points.

6. Lotus-Climax 18

John Surtees in the Lotus-Climax 18 at the 1960 British GP

John Surtees in the Lotus-Climax 18 at the 1960 British GP

Photo by: David Phipps / Motorsport Images

Years: 1960-61 (with leading teams)
Wins: 4
Drivers’ titles: 0
Constructors titles: 0

The 18 was Chapman’s real F1 breakthrough. The boxy-looking 18 was his first rear-engined F1 car – and also proved successful as an F2 and Formula Junior chassis with different powerplants.

In Stirling Moss’s hands, Rob Walker’s privately run 18 scored the first world championship pole position and maiden victory for Lotus at the 1960 Monaco GP.

Moss was probably the only driver capable of stopping Cooper duo Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren dominating the season but his big Spa crash – after a wheel fell off the 18 – meant he missed three GPs, all of which Brabham won.

Lotus still finished second in the constructors’ table and did so again in 1961 as Ferrari dominated, Moss proving the star once more as he took two of his finest victories in Walker-run machinery.

PRIME: Sir Stirling Moss’ 10 greatest drives

5. Lotus-Ford 78

Mario Andretti in the Lotus-Ford 78 while leading the 1977 Italian GP

Mario Andretti in the Lotus-Ford 78 while leading the 1977 Italian GP

Photo by: LAT Photographic / Motorsport Images

Years: 1977-78
Wins: 7
Drivers’ titles: 0
Constructors titles: 0

Is this the most-overlooked great F1 Lotus? The 79 often gets the credit for bringing ground-effect – using the ‘sealed’ underbody of the car to create downforce – to F1 but its predecessor got there first.

Mario Andretti and the Lotus 78 was the fastest combination of 1977. The American took more poles and led more laps than any other driver that season, but reliability problems – often due to the more powerful development Cosworth DFV engines the 78 probably didn’t need to win – helped Niki Lauda and Ferrari steal both titles.

Andretti still took four victories, while Gunnar Nilsson added another with a brilliant performance at the Belgian GP.

Andretti and new team-mate Ronnie Peterson took a win apiece at the start of 1978 before the 79 arrived. Perhaps the ultimate Lotus F1 moment came on the 79’s debut at Zolder when Andretti won in the new car and Peterson stormed to second in the old one…

PRIME: Ronnie Peterson’s greatest drives

Sadly, the 78’s career ended on a tragic note. Following a practice crash in his 79 at Monza, Peterson switched to a 78 for the Italian GP. He was involved in a startline accident and died after complications set in.

4. Lotus-Ford 79

Jean-Pierre Jarier in the Lotus-Ford 79 while leading the 1978 Canadian GP

Jean-Pierre Jarier in the Lotus-Ford 79 while leading the 1978 Canadian GP

Photo by: David Phipps / Motorsport Images

Years: 1978-79
Wins: 6
Drivers’ titles: 1 (Mario Andretti, 1978)
Constructors’ titles: 1 (1978)

One of the classic F1 game-changers, the 79 was almost untouchable after it arrived for round six of 1978, with only the Michelin-shod Ferrari 312 T3 proving a consistent challenger. The 79 is also one of the finest-looking racing cars ever.

Top 10: Best looking F1 cars ranked - Williams FW14B, Eagle and more

The 79, which built on the ground-effect advancements of the 78, won six of its 11 races in 1978 – and crossed the line first in a seventh (at Monza), only for Andretti to be penalised for jumping the start. It was still enough for him to clinch the drivers’ title, but Peterson’s fatal accident overshadowed the event.

Jean-Pierre Jarier stepped in and was set to win the season-closing Canadian GP when he lost oil pressure, but Lotus had already comfortably secured the constructors’ crown.

Formula 1's great Lotus landmarks - Lotus 79

The 79’s chief weakness was probably that it wasn’t particularly stiff, meaning that it didn’t make the most of ground-effects. While Chapman pursued the next big step with the ill-fated Lotus 80, rival teams optimised ground-effects in 1979 and Lotus slumped to fourth and no more wins with the 79.

3. Lotus-Ford 49

Graham Hill in the Lotus-Ford 49 in the 1968 United Staes GP

Graham Hill in the Lotus-Ford 49 in the 1968 United Staes GP

Photo by: David Phipps / Motorsport Images

Years: 1967-70
Wins: 12
Drivers’ titles: 1 (Graham Hill, 1968)
Constructors’ titles: 1 (1968)

The car that brought the Cosworth DFV to F1 – and made it a stressed member – could be higher on this list but for the events of 1967.

The 49 won on its debut at the Dutch GP and took pole for every world championship race thereafter in 1967 in the hands of Jim Clark and Graham Hill. It had the biggest performance advantage of any Lotus and the 10th largest in world championship history, but myriad reliability issues (engine, transmission, suspension) cost Lotus both titles.

Relative to the opposition, the 1967 49 is the fastest F1 car not to secure either the drivers’ or constructors’ championship, but it made up for it the following year. A combination of bad luck for Jackie Stewart and Matra, Ferrari unreliability and a dogged campaign from Hill in the wake of Clark’s death brought Lotus both titles. Jo Siffert also took his Rob Walker-run 49 to a famous win in the British GP.

Jochen Rindt proved rapid in the 49B in 1969 and took five poles but misfortune prevented him from challenging runaway champion Stewart more consistently and he took just one win. But there was still time for one more success, Rindt putting in a famous charge at the 1970 Monaco GP to win in the 49C while Lotus battled to perfect the 72…

2. Lotus-Climax 25/33

Jim Clark leads Trevor Taylor in the Lotus-Climax 25 in the 1963 South African GP

Jim Clark leads Trevor Taylor in the Lotus-Climax 25 in the 1963 South African GP

Photo by: LAT Photographic / Motorsport Images

Years: 1962-66
Wins: 19
Drivers’ titles: 2 (Jim Clark, 1963 and 1965)
Constructors’ titles: 2 (1963 and 1965)

Perhaps combining these two is cheating, but the 33 was a direct development of the 25, with much of the difference to be found in the suspension to accommodate wider tyres.

The 25 is the reason modern racing cars have monocoque chassis, which are lighter and (in 1962) allowed a reduction in frontal area compared to the hitherto common spaceframe designs.

Clark and the 25 set the pace in 1962, taking six poles and five fastest laps from the nine championship rounds, but – as was sometimes a theme with Chapman’s game-changers – an inability to finish enough races lost both titles, scooped by Hill and BRM.

But the 1963 season was one of the most dominant in F1 history. Clark took seven poles and seven wins from the 10 rounds and led an astonishing 71.5% of the laps. Thanks to the dropped-scores points system of the day, Lotus and Clark took maximum championship tallies as they crushed the opposition.

Clark used the 25 and 33 during 1964. He was again the quickest but appalling reliability in the second half of the year, including at the very end of the title-deciding Mexican GP, meant John Surtees and Ferrari took the titles.

Clark and Lotus reasserted their position in 1965, taking both championships (largely with the 33, though the 25 was wheeled out to win in France!) despite missing the Monaco GP in order to win the Indianapolis 500.

The 33, with two-litre power, was still good enough to take a podium at the 1966 Dutch GP and the 1967 Tasman title in Clark’s hands.

1. Lotus-Ford 72

Jochen Rindt in the Lotus-Ford 72 leading the 1970 German GP

Jochen Rindt in the Lotus-Ford 72 leading the 1970 German GP

Photo by: David Phipps / Motorsport Images

Years: 1970-75
Wins: 20
Drivers’ titles: 2 (Jochen Rindt 1970, Emerson Fittipaldi 1972)
Constructors’ titles: 3 (190, 1972-73)

Given that Autosport voted the Lotus 72 the greatest competition car of all time in 2020, it should be no surprise to see it top this list.

Like the 25 and 49 before it, the 72 had a troubled early life but, unlike its famous predecessors, the issues were overcome soon enough to deliver a double title success in its first year.

The wedge-shaped 72, which reset the template for single-seater racing cars around the world with its side radiators, also had a longer frontline career and won more world championship races than any other car on this list.

Once the 72 had been sorted, and its anti-squat suspension removed, Rindt went on a run of four consecutive wins in the middle of 1970, which was enough to clinch both the driver’s and constructors’ championship despite the Austrian’s death at Monza.

Trouble getting to grips with Firestone’s new slick tyres made for a winless 1971, but the 72D was on the right track by the end of the campaign. Emerson Fittipaldi then took five wins on his way to beating Stewart to the 1972 crown.

Lotus took both titles that year and could have done in 1973. It had arguably the fastest car, plus Fittipaldi and Peterson on its books, and won the constructors’ championship with seven wins to Tyrrell’s five. But its two stars took points off each other, Peterson suffered some bad luck, and Stewart put in one of the finest F1 campaigns ever to take his third drivers’ title before retiring.

With Fittipaldi at McLaren, Peterson led the charge in 1974 and scored three victories, but the opposition had overtaken Lotus. The failure of the Lotus 76 meant the ageing 72 was pressed into service again in 1975. Predictably, it was not competitive, but its impact on the sport and five world championships had already secured its place in F1 history.

Emerson Fittipaldi in the Lotus-Ford 72D at the 1972 Austrian GP

Emerson Fittipaldi in the Lotus-Ford 72D at the 1972 Austrian GP

Photo by: Rainer Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

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