Formula 1

Interview with Clive Chapman, the son of Lotus Cars founder Colin Chapman

Interview with Clive Chapman, the son of Lotus Cars founder Colin Chapman
On the occasion of the 39th death anniversary of Colin Chapman, Automobilist pays tribute to his legacy and legendary F1 driver Ayrton Senna through a series of posters re-creating the race, car and win in Estoril in 1985. Speaking with Clive Chapman, MD of Classic Team Lotus and Colin’s son, we take a journey back in time to 1985 and the team’s win carrying on the motorsport enthusiasm and tradition of Colin Chapman, 3 years after his demise.

AutomobilistAyrton Senna was actually signed on after the death of Colin Chapman. If Colin could have seen the 1985 season or had an opportunity to work closely with Senna, how do you envision that communication?  

Clive ChapmanMy father was only satisfied with victory. Even when he won he was always pushing himself and the team further. Team Lotus always was the hardest working team. In these ways I think Ayrton and my father had similar attitudes, so in these ways they would have communicated well. In particular my father would have appreciated Ayrton’s ability to record and report the performance of the car and to detect the effect of set-up changes. My father and Ayrton were very strong characters, so I think there would have been some fireworks, at times.

Colin Chapman Team Lotus with Elio de Angelis and Nigel Mansell . Image courtesy Lotus Cars

Automobilist: What set the 97T apart from Lotus' previous designs and developments?

Clive Chapman: It was generally considered a simple design with elements used from the 96T. I believe the 97T was a development of the type 95T (not the 96T). The regulations between 1984 and 1985 restricted the aerodynamics, to a degree. The aerodynamics were more sophisticated, including the introduction of the vertical deflector, behind the front tyres. The undercar aerodynamics – managed by the control of the ride height and the rake – were more sophisticated and important. The Renault engine produced quite a lot more power.

Colin Chapman with Team Lotus at the Spanish Grand Prix 1978. Image courtesy Hoch Zwei

AutomobilistAs Automobilist re-creates the winning race with not one, but 4 posters, your personal reflection on Estoril in 1985... and what you hope the posters would do to bring that moment back to life.  

Clive Chapman: Ayrton Senna considered Estoril to be his greatest ever race; it was truly an amazing drive, with so much turbo power in the torrential rain and without traction control. His car control was extraordinary and he was so much quicker than everyone else. In a league of his own. For Team Lotus it was the first Grand Prix win since the death of my father, Colin Chapman, three years previously. My mother Hazel had decided to keep Team Lotus going, to give my father’s colleagues the opportunity to succeed without him. Nearly all of the team members stayed together, to face the challenge, including Elio De Angelis. Team Manager Peter Warr did brilliantly to bring Ayrton to the team. Designer Gerard Ducarouge created a car to make the most of the Renault turbo power.  

Ayrton Senna at the Portuguese Grand Prix 1985 after his greatest Formula 1 Victory. Image courtesy Motorsport images

Ayrton Senna in Lotus 97T at the Portuguese Grand Prix 1985. Image courtesy Motorsport images

Clive Chapman: At the finish the Team Lotus personnel were so excited they jumped over the pitwall onto the track, celebrating wildly. (Subsequently the FIA forbade teams from doing this.) Classic Team Lotus Team Manager Chris Dinnage was Ayrton’s mechanic on that day and leading the celebrations. Chris takes care of 97T/2 and is entrusted with driving it, now and again, which is always an emotional occasion. I am delighted that Automobilist has taken such great care and skill to create the four fabulous artworks that celebrate this special moment in motorsport history, realised by a great team working so hard together.

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