Lotus was one of the oldest and most successful teams in Formula One, second only to Ferrari to reach the 50-win mark. During the 1960s, the Lotus-Climax cars propelled Jim Clark to the 1963 and 1965 titles and Graham Hill to the 1968 title. Founder Graham Chapman was the first to introduce sponsorship, and the first to introduce wings, and the team became known for its technical innovation, especially as the 60s turned onto the 70s. Rindt won the 1970 title posthumously, then Emerson Fittipaldi took the 1972 title in the revolutionary Lotus 72. Fittipaldi and Peterson helped the team win the 1973 constructors’ title, but by 1975 the team had hit a bad patch as the 72 was outdated but the new 77 was a disaster although US driver Mario Andretti was able to salvage a win at the last race of the 1976 season. The 1977 car was much better though, and by 1978 Andretti and Peterson brought the team another Drivers’ (Andretti) and Constructors’ championship. The iconic black and gold JPS sponsorship was replaced for 1979 with racing green and Martini branding and Andretti and Reutemann failed to make much impact in the new Lotus 80 car. Reutemann jumped ship for Williams and Chapman recruited Elio de Angelis to partner Andretti and another new colour scheme; blue and red. The 1980 Lotus was as much of a disaster as the ‘79 car and Andretti and de Angelis managed only four points finishes between them. Andretti was tempted away by Alfa Romeo at the end of the season, so Nigel Mansell was promoted to the senior team.
Born in Rome to a speedboat-racing father, Elio de Angelis progressed from karting into Formula Three, where he won the 1977 Italian championship and graduated into Formula Two where he raced first for Minardi and then for the British ICI team. For 1979 he was offered an F1 seat with the Shadow team, and despite a desperately uncompetitive and unreliable car he proved his talent by bringing it home fourth at the final race of the season. Recruited for Lotus in 1980, he raised eyebrows by finishing second in his second race, but the car just wasn’t good enough and three further points finishes (6th and two 4ths) was all he could manage. Nonetheless, with Andretti’s departure, de Angelis became the Lotus team’s lead driver for 1981.
Like Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell struggled against the wishes of his father and his progress to Formula One was slower than some as he financed every step of the way himself. Winning his debut Formula Ford race was a good start though, and he went on to take six race wins out of nine in his inaugural season, moving on to become British Formula Ford champion with 33 wins out of 42 in 1977 despite a crash at Brands Hatch that gave him neck injuries and almost rendered him quadraplegic. He moved up to Formula 3 but struggled in an uncompetitive car until injured in another crash, this time a spectacular one with Andrea de Cesaris. However, Colin Chapman saw his potential as a test driver and offered him three race drives in 1980 to develop Lotus’ new car before promoting him to the first team after Andretti’s departure.