Ranking the Top 10 Lotus Drivers of All Time
Lotus. Lovely, lovely Lotus. The team has a special place in my heart as my earliest Formula One memory was of Ayrton Senna driving the beautiful black and gold liveried JPS Lotus 98T. Of course my father reminded me, and still does, that Jim Clark was the greatest driver ever and would have won multiple titles for Lotus if it wasn't for his tragic death.
With the Lotus name now once again back in the winners’ circle thanks to a certain Kimi Raikkonen, here’s my take on the top 10 F1 drivers to have raced for the famous constructor.
10. Elio De Angelis
Squeaks into the top 10 in terms of pure consistency and dedication to the Lotus cause. The Italian raced in no fewer than six Formula One seasons for the Lotus team.
His most successful season came in 1984 when he finished third in the championship. His first victory was a classic, as he held off a charging Keke Rosberg to win by .05 seconds at the Osterreichring in 1982. His only other victory came in the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix after initial winner Alain Prost was disqualified for having an underweight car.
9. Stirling Moss
Of course Moss is best remembered for his titanic championship battles behind the wheel of Mercedes, Maserati, Vanwall and Cooper cars. He goes down in my list because he recorded the first victory for a Lotus car in the 1960 Monaco Grand Prix driving a Lotus 18 for the Rob Walker Racing Team.
Moss would go on to win three more times in his Lotus, including another Monaco victory in 1961.
8. Kimi Raikkonen
Following a lengthy and complex legal dispute surrounding naming rights, Lotus-Renault GP was given the rights to the Lotus name and renamed LotusF1 in 2012. Raikkonen scored his first victory for the black and gold liveried Lotus E20 at the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, famously yelling to his race engineer “Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing” when told of his gap to Fernando Alonso.
Raikkonen won again in Australia on the opening race of the 2013 season and, at the time of this writing, ranks second in the drivers’ standings following five more second-place finishes. Will it be Lotus’ year once more?
7. Ayrton Senna
When Nigel Mansell departed the team at the end of 1984, Lotus hired young Brazilian Ayrton Senna who soon won in Portugal and Belgium in the Lotus 97T. The following year marked Senna’s most successful for the team as he scored eight pole positions and two wins in the evolutionary Lotus 98T as Lotus finished third above Ferrari in the constructors’ standings.
The team lost the backing of John Player & Sons for Senna’s final season and so went the beautiful black and gold livery, replaced by the yellow of Camel. Senna won twice, including at Monaco, but the active-suspension 99T was no match for Williams and McLaren.
6. Ronnie Peterson
Nicknamed "SuperSwede," the popular Peterson competed for John Player Team Lotus for four seasons, winning on ten occasions.
Throughout the 1970s he had the reputation as the fastest driver in the sport in terms of raw speed. Peterson won four times in 1973 en route to third in the championship and was second in the standings to teammate Mario Andretti entering the 1978 Italian Grand Prix.
A first corner pile-up sent Peterson’s Lotus into the barriers before it came back onto the circuit ablaze. Peterson was freed from the wreckage with only minor burns but with severe leg fractures. Although not thought to be life threatening, Peterson’s condition worsened overnight and he was diagnosed with fat embolism, went into full renal failure and tragically died.
Who knows what he might have gone on to achieve.
5. Graham Hill
Hill began his Formula One career in 1958 racing for Team Lotus, but it is for his 1968 season with the team that he will be remembered. Following the tragic death of teammate Jim Clark at the start of the season, Hill won in Spain, Monaco and the Mexican Grand Prix to claim his second drivers’ title by 12 points from Jackie Stewart.
4. Emerson Fittipaldi
"Emo," as he is affectionately known, burst onto the Formula One scene in his debut season in 1970 by taking a brilliant victory in the US Grand Prix. In doing so, he ensured the title would go to Lotus teammate Jochen Rindt who had been killed at the Italian Grand Prix.
Two years later, driving the Lotus 72 and sporting the now famous black and gold JPS livery for the first time, Fittipaldi surged to the title with five race victories, becoming the youngest ever world champion at 25 years of age. He would win three more times for Lotus in 1973 before moving to McLaren.
3. Mario Andretti
Before Alain Prost came along, Mario Andretti was known as the thinking man’s driver. His expertise in giving the engineers precise feedback in order to develop the car was instrumental to his 1978 world title triumph.
With engineers further pushing the boundaries of aerodynamic ground effects, the Lotus 78 and 79 of that year propelled Andretti to six race victories and a title triumph in the memory of his teammate Ronnie Peterson.
2. Jochen Rindt
Widely acknowledged as one of the quickest drivers of his generation, Rindt was set to totally dominate the sport before he was tragically killed in the 1970 Italian Grand Prix. Having taken a maiden grand prix win in the 1969 US Grand Prix, Rindt totally dominated the season in Colin Chapman’s lightning quick but twitchy Lotus 72.
He won four grands prix in succession heading to Monza and decided to run without wings to reduce drag for more speed on the straights. On the fifth lap of the final practice session, Rindt’s Lotus swerved sharply left under the crash barrier, killing him instantly. Following Fittipaldi’s victory in America, the 28-year-old became the first and only posthumous world champion. That title, thankfully, still remains to this day.
1. Jim Clark
There can be only one. It was Jim Clark who began the whole Lotus success story in 1963, the unassuming Scot driving the Lotus 25 to a remarkable seven wins en route to his first drivers’ title.
A problem with his car in the final race of the 1964 season handed the title to John Surtees, but Clark again dominated in 1965 with six victories in his Lotus 33 helping him to a second title. Clark was third in the championship in 1967 and having won the season opener in 1968, another Clark romp to the title was considered a distinct possibility.
While driving a meaningless Formula Two race at Hockenheim due to contractual obligations, his Lotus veered off the circuit and crashed into the trees. At the time of his death, he had won more grand prix races (25) and achieved more Grand Prix pole positions (33) than any other driver.
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