Monday 13 April 2020

Monza 1994 - Team Lotus's Last Hurrah, by Ibrar Malik

One of the victims from a turbulent 1994 F1 season was Team Lotus, which finally succumbed to its financial struggles during the year. Like Brabham two years earlier, a once-great name would vanish from F1. Lotus was Jim Clark, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi as well as Ayrton Senna's first top team in F1. The upcoming 1983-'89 Lotus book ( charts how Team Lotus went from being regular a frontrunner during the mid-1980s to a midfielder only a few years later.

After its release on May 1 2020, we then intend to write a follow-up print book covering the team's final years of 1990-'95. This follow-up book explains how Lotus then changed ownership at the end of '90 and went from merely surviving that winter to finishing an incredible fifth in the '92 constructors' championship. It seemed the former seven-time world champion team was on a clear upward trajectory having re-establishing itself as a regular point scorer. More good news came in the form of its leading driver, Johnny Herbert, re-signing within the team for another five years by the end of 1992. Unfortunately this revival under Peter Collins proved short lived because behind the scenes debts were still piling up. The team only survived two more seasons in F1 after '92.

The follow-up Team Lotus book (covering its 1990-'95 period) will detail the reasons why Peter Collins' failure to implement the exciting '10x' development plans for '93. Or retain future star drivers like Hakkinen.

Coming into 1994, Lotus's had just finished sixth in the previous year's constructors' championship and had been battling teams like Ligier, Sauber and Ferrari who had all enjoyed 'works' engine contracts. Whereas Lotus had been enduring 'customer' engines ever since '91. Therefore the team believed the only way for it to beat those ahead would be via an exclusive engine deal with Mugen Honda for '94. "Although it was a 'works' deal, we still had to pay for it, however, it did give us A - Exclusivity and B - Development potential," according to Team Lotus's Head of Archives, Antony Burton who will be a key contributor to our upcoming Lotus books. "If you think about how we did with the Ford HB V8 Series 5 engine and think of what we could have done with the latter Series 7 that Benetton Formula received. We were hitting above our potential. That meant that we would always be playing second best as long as we were stuck with the V8. A costly decision, for sure, but one with a definite view to the future."

It was a big gamble because it either had the potential to make or break the team given its fragile financial position at the time, indeed some debts had been outstanding since 1991. Lotus's ability to race in '94 despite its tight finances was largely thanks to certain creditors rescheduling their payments. All of which meant results were critical to the team's survival beyond that year. Readers of the 1994 book will know that fateful season contained various technical restrictions imposed upon teams, while the upcoming 1990-'95 Lotus book will detail how they conspired against Ketteringham Hall. This partly explains why we saw the team at the back of F1 grids throughout most of that year. Nevertheless, the team with a fighting spirit like no other just carried on believing things would eventually come good for it.

1994 could not have been worse for Lotus. For the first time in its 40-year history, the team failed to score any points during a grand prix season. The 1990-1995 book investigates why

Despite the challenges facing it, it is inspiring just how loyal Lotus's staff were to the dream of re-establishing the iconic brand as F1 frontrunners. Remember, 1994 was probably one of F1's toughest seasons in modern times. Meaning some mechanics had to work over eighty-hour weeks thanks to the ever-changing rules during that year (again details of which are contained within the 1994 book). In addition to this, Lotus had to work with a new engine supplier for the upcoming season.

Mugen was founded by the son of Honda's owner and provided engine tuning and performance parts to its parent company. A new-for-1994 Mugen engine (known as the ZA5D) with involvement from Honda (one of F1's most successful engine manufactures) was promised to Lotus partway through the season. Until then the team had to use an updated '93 engine which ironically Footwork had ditched for the customer Ford V8 engine. Footwork thereby did the exact opposite to Lotus during the 1993/94 off season in regards to engine choice and the 1990-1995 book will, therefore, investigate which gamble proved the better choice. The new ZA5D Mugen engine therefore gave all at Ketteringham Hall hope, when lesser teams might have thrown in the towel.

The team's plan for 1994 was to covert its '93 car to a passive suspension and install the (older spec) Mugen engine along with a new semi-automatic gearbox as an interim solution. This was to be known as the 107C until Lotus's new-for-'94 car (the 109) would be ready around the Spanish Grand Prix. The 107C was 45 kilograms overweight partly because the team didn't want to waste precious development funds on its interim car. Again the upcoming Lotus book covering their 1990-1995 period will detail how events then conspired against Kettingham Hall throughout the '94 season, even after the newer 109 chassis was launched. Meaning for the first time in the team's 40-year history they were staring at a pointless season as '94 approached its final quarter.

By contrast Footwork (which remember had swapped Mugen's for a customer Ford V8 in 1994) had been extremely competitive in the early races of 1994. So much so they even were accused of cheating via hidden and invisible legal driver aids after the Aida race (again alluded to in the 1994 book) just like the winners of that event, Michael Schumacher and Benetton, were.     

Herbert admitted he lost motivation driving for Lotus in 1994 after the Englishman had been outqualified by a Simtek at that year's Hungarian Grand Prix

The 1994 Italian Grand Prix, round 11 of 16, would be the crucial race for Team Lotus because this is where its new Mugen engine would make its debut. In comparison to the older unit it was more powerful (1000 RPMs more), 13kgs lighter, and had a lower centre of gravity. At a test before the crucial Monza race Herbert armed with that new ZA5D engine lapped the Silverstone circuit three seconds quicker than his British GP qualifying time. It would have put him third on the Silverstone grid. Would the new engine transform the 109's handling and traction for the rest of the season? That was what Lotus believed and the upcoming 1990-1995 Lotus book explores the detail behind the Hethel based team thinking on this front. In summary, this new Mugen engine was Lotus's final throw of the dice…it was win or bust from here on in. No half measures anymore. 

Ketteringham Hall's leading driver Herbert qualified fourth with the new Mugen at Italy thus proving his impressive Silverstone testing time was no fluke. His average qualifying position for the season thus far had been 20th. Whereas his team-mate - Alex Zanardi, on home ground - was forced to use the older engine because Lotus did not have any spare gearboxes compatible with the newer Mugen. Evidence of how bad the team's finances were by this point. Lotus's number two driver managed a season's best 13th on the grid, 1.4s adrift of Herbert. Zanardi claims in his autobiography he would have been on pole with the new Mugen and suggests the telemetry between himself and Herbert proves that via his speed in corners. Nevertheless, there was a buzz of excitement in the Lotus pits afterwards because Mugen had made promising indications. Should the team secure a podium at Monza then financial support towards the future of Team Lotus might be forthcoming from Japan, which in turn might attract new potential new sponsors?   

The man from Mugen found himself very popular at Monza

At the green light, Herbert got a better start than 1994 championship contender Hill's Williams and was eyeing up Berger's Ferrari for second position heading into the first chicane. Unfortunately, Eddie Irvine's Jordan behind him missed his braking point so smashed right into the back of the Lotus 109. This sent Herbert into a spin and left the furious driver beached over one of Monza's high kerbs, unable to get going again. Behind the pair, carnage ensued as 21 other cars tried picking their way past the stranded Lotus. The team were then handed a lifeline when the race was stopped and the Lotus (equipped with the new engine) was recovered back to the pits. Unfortunately there proved too much damage to its floor, meaning Herbert took to the spare car - equipped with the older and slower Mugen engine - instead. To add salt to the team's wounds, Herbert was then late out of his pits meaning he took that restart from the pitlane, rather than his fourth position on the grid.

Zanardi was now elevated to the team's leading driver at his home event. However, the Italian was now the subject of Lotus's bad luck. Because at the restarted race, Zanardi had been fighting over 10th place with the leading Benetton of Jos Verstappen during the opening lap. Unfortunately at the Ascari Chicane, the Dutchman missed his braking point and ran into the Lotus (with the older Mugen), thus ending the Italian's race soon afterwards. Herbert's race lasted 13 laps longer because the alternator failed in that spare car, which had not turned a wheel all weekend. The Englishman had moved up 10 places by that point, so some much-needed points were still possible had reliability been on his side. 

Irvine was banned from almost as many races as Schumacher during 1994 owing to his crash record. This is on top of the Irishman's various other offences (like those demonstrated at Monza '94 or winding up Senna in '93). Yet interestingly Irvine is largely just seen as a lovable rogue by F1 fans now unlike Schumacher.

"Irvine has done far too much damage this year and should be properly penalised," said a furious Herbert after this race. While Lotus team boss Peter Collins added "Formula 1 doesn't need drivers like this. Irvine's brain has obviously been removed and it is about time that his license is too."  It was Irvine's second run-in with the stewards that weekend because the Northern Irishman's Friday qualifying times had been deleted owing to him completing too many laps during the session. The rookie driver jokingly said "maybe we will be OK if we say a junior employee held out our pitboard" following the Benetton fuel fire verdict which had just been announced. If you don't get the joke, then read the 1994 book (

Considering that Alesi's Ferrari didn't finish the race, and Berger's had been held up during his pitstop. Had Herbert been able to continue with the new Mugen engine then there's was a very strong chance he would have been on the podium, thus securing the additional Mugen support promised. With that, it's inevitably tempting to think that the Lotus story could have ended differently. As things turned out this result was the final nail in Lotus's coffin because the following day its directors placed the struggling team into administration. Herbert, being one of Lotus most valuable assets, was soon sold off and this blog explains what happened during the rest of his year. While various subsequent efforts were made to revive the team.

It was even rumoured that their former driver and 1992 F1 world champion, Nigel Mansell, might purchase the team

It did not help matters that Lotus was unable to recreate the speed shown with the new engine until Herbert's last testing session with the team, just after the Portuguese Grand Prix. Again the 1990-1995 Lotus book will explain this, why the team failed to score a point during those final four races of 1994 (with the new Mugen engine). Moreover, it will look into what Lotus could have done differently to survive? For instance was moving to Mugen for 1994 the right choice or their final death nail? Whereas the upcoming 1983-1989 book will detail how Team Lotus got itself into serious financial problems during the 1990s (whereas comparable teams like Williams only went from strength to strength).

A question for you to ponder... What is it with Team Lotus that makes it appealing? Is it the cars? The drivers? Or history? To key book contributor and Team Lotus Head of Archives, Antony Burton: "It is/was the spirit of Team Lotus... I often say to people that we were the only outfit in F1 with the name 'Team' in it, for that is what we were. A TEAM."  It's a spirit and commitment which inspires one to fight against the odds, something you just can't buy. Thus we hope to capture some of that same spirit in our forthcoming Lotus books and make Colin Chapman proud.

If you enjoyed reading about this little bit of Team Lotus history, then you'll enjoy the new book: Team Lotus, Struggling Beyond The Post Colin Chapman Era. You can find out more about this book at and an abridged version is currently available to purchase on E-Book format or Audio Book Format there. You can read/listen to a free sample and get more details of the book by clicking on the above links. If you prefer additional detail over the cheaper price than the Lotus print book is for you. If you are unsure, then please consult the below table:

I would recommend the "Detailed E-book" as I think the extra detail is worth the extra money. However, I understand not everybody wants to spend £19.99 on a book hence why we have alternative options. If you would like to find out more about this book, then please click here

After this book is released on May 1 2020 we then intend to start work on a follow-up book covering Team Lotus's final years from 1990 onwards. If you would like to receive updates on this project then please sign up here:

Support future books here (while getting your hands on exclusive research): 

Thanks to Antony Burton, Jon Maplestone and Simon Stiel for helping with our ongoing Lotus book project. The photos used were courtesy of; Antony Burton, Stephen Lathamq, Alastair Ladd. Martin Lee and, with the latter two licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


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