The Lotus 72 represents one of the longest-lasting and most successful cars in the history of the Formula 1 World Championship. Originally designed by Colin Chapman and Maurice Philippe for the 1970 season, the car proves yet another success of the English team, and subjected to a constant development it is used until the 1976 season.
The Lotus 72 represents another example of Colin Chapman's innovative design skills. The design, in fact, is inspired by the previous model 56, equipped with a gas turbine, while the configuration takes up the Lotus 63 used as a test bench for a four-wheel drive car.
Chapman's creative effort once again produces one of the most important and successful projects in the history of Formula 1 and of the team itself, with the engine continuing to perform the load-bearing function, a technique already successfully employed aboard the winning Lotus 49; thanks to the advanced aerodynamic study, a car is created that proves, once again, clearly superior to its rivals.
At the beginning, however, the car suffers handling problems due to the geometry of the anti-sinking suspensions, designed to prevent the car from lowering excessively under the effect of sharp braking, with the rear suspension being instead made with a geometry anti squat, so as to prevent the car from swaying under the effect of acceleration.
As for the radiators, they are located at the nose, an excellent position as they must be hit by fresh air to be able to cool the water and engine oil to the best of their ability, since the regulation does not allow the use of fans. In this way, keeping the radiator on the nose of the car, the length of the expansion vessels also increases, so there are problems with the circulation of fluids due to the higher pressure drops, while the air intake for the engine is made above the pilot's head.
In this regard, the British technicians choose to move the radiators to the sides of the car, immediately in front of the engine and therefore in a rear position. This still allows for good ventilation, as the air arriving in this area, although disturbed by the presence of the suspensions and wheels, has a high flow rate. Furthermore, circulation problems are no longer present, as the radiators are located immediately in front of the engine.
Among other things, instead of having a large device on the front, there are now two smaller ones on each side, and this also reduces the reliability problems of the radiators themselves.
As mentioned, the car is very advanced in terms of aerodynamics: in fact, without the large front radiator the nose becomes thinner, exponentially reducing the front section and offering less air resistance. This results in an excellent improvement in penetration capacity, and therefore significantly higher speeds on straights.
However, the 72 models, and especially from the 72C evolution onwards, have a thin but wide nose, with a trapezoidal pattern that widens as you get closer to the wheels. Therefore, in addition to being able to penetrate the air well, the nose also acts as a front wing, providing a discreet deporting effect and allowing the car to be fast both in corners and in straights.
In addition, in the front area the car can count on the suction effect of the original upper vent chimneys, precursors of the S-Duct systems, which will never be modified in subsequent evolutions. The braking system, another innovative feature of the car, is positioned inboard, when in reality the brakes are traditionally mounted on the hub holder of each wheel.
In this case they are positioned inside the frame and integral with the half-shafts keyed to the wheels, i.e. the front ones with the rear ones coming out of the differential. This scheme reduces the so-called unsprung masses, i.e. all the weight due to the wheels and the structures that support them. All this benefits the stability of the car, especially when cornering, thanks to a reduction in the polar moments of inertia, and superior road holding.
With the same engine, the Lotus 72 is 19 km/h faster than the previous car. As for the engine, the English team continues to rely on the famous DFV, or the eight-cylinder V made by Cosworth, with which Colin Chapman himself is in close contact.
Compared to Ferrari's powerful twelve-cylinder engines, B.R.M. and Matra, the eight-cylinder guarantees lower weight and better delivery, although it is the victim of some chronic problems concerning the distribution system.
The 1970 season therefore begins with Chapman worried that the lack of reliability of the engine could somehow limit the performance of his creatures and therefore of his pilots.
At the end of the season, the definitive solution to the age-old problem of the distribution system arrives, consisting in the insertion of an elastic joint in the center of the kinematic chain, with the task of dampening the stress peaks.
An elaborate solution, consisting of three gears side by side and coupled through the interposition of twelve torsion bars. In addition, the depression inside the monobloc is also increased and a better phase of emptying the crankcase of oil is studied, thanks to the increase in the flow rate of the recovery pump, passing from an architecture with Roots type lobes, to an effective one. centrifugal separation of the oil-gas mixture.
The first evolution of the car, specified by the name Lotus 72 B, is represented by a decrease in the values relating to the anti-squat system, while in the second specification called Lotus 72 C, the English team reduces the values of the anti-dive system, i.e. system that creates an effect contrary to lowering during braking, going from one hundred percent to a more traditional thirty-forty percent.
In 1971 the third evolution of the car made its début, identified by the letter D: the double longitudinal struts-tie rods and the joints are obtained with double connecting rod below and single above, the torsion bar system used at the rear is identical to the front one, only the shock absorber is on the diagonal because in the initial internal position it overheats due to the presence of the exhausts, while as regards the aerodynamics, the car now has a large rear wing, with a decidedly reduced inclination compared to the 72 and 72 C models, an indication of a better road holding obtained by the English team.
The other substantial difference is in the design of the engine's air intake, which now has a squarer and sharper shape. In 1971 Chapman tried to develop the four-wheel drive Lotus and the time dedicated to this car did not allow Fittipaldi - who in the meantime became the first team leader - to fight for the title won by Jackie Stewart's Tyrrell and teammate François Cévert.
For the 1972 season, the regulatory obligation to use a specific sheet of at least 16 DWG, about 1.5 millimeters thick, was enacted. The standard aims to protect tanks more effectively, and represents the second intervention on the subject after that of two years before which required the use of tanks with rubber bags.
To comply with the regulations, the team led by Colin Chapman locally reinforces all the engine attachment points, from the suspension struts and the roll-bar, with tissue-like steel sheets. The side structures remain unchanged in the design, with the addition of the 1.5 millimeters reinforced sheet as previously described.
In 1973 a third measure was launched by the Federation, which consists in providing additional lateral protections. In addition, the minimum weight of the cars is also retouched, which is progressively raised from 520 to 530 kg, subsequently passed to 550 and finally stabilizing at 575 kg.
At the beginning of 1975 any new project was not present at Lotus, and the engineers of the English team must find satisfactory modifications to make the Lotus 72 competitive again, in its fifth season in the world championship.
The challenge is not at all simple, among the priorities required there is the need to modify the weight distribution that made the 72 successful, given that the new front tires supplied by the American Goodyear require more load to enter the right temperature range for use. Initially, we try to centralize different masses, such as the oil tank, now positioned between the engine and the body.
To find the necessary space, however, the British technicians were forced to lengthen the wheelbase of the car by 110 millimeters. These changes, combined with other small evolutions and refinements of the previous evolution, are standardized within the latest evolution of the 72 model, which takes the name of Lotus 72 F.
However, the excellent balance that had always distinguished the Lotus 72 vanishes, and the improvements made prove to be completely ineffective. Chapman soon accepts the fact that the 72 model is now dated for a world as fast as the Formula 1 of the 70s, concentrating his efforts on the future Lotus 77, an unsuccessful and unsuccessful car, which however will be the basis for the glorious Lotus 78, which will forever change the history of Formula 1.
Six seasons for five world titles
At the debut, which took place in the 1970 season, the designated drivers behind the wheel of the Lotus 72 are Jochen Rindt and John Miles. The Austrian driver takes the car to its first success of the season in Holland, followed by several victories in the Grand Prix of France, Great Britain and Germany, while in the home Grand Prix in Austria, the talented driver at the court of Colin Chapman is forced to retire.
Rindt leads the drivers' standings with 45 points, but at the tenth seasonal Grand Prix held in Italy, on the Monza circuit, during the qualifying session he is the protagonist of a bad accident at the wheel of his Lotus, which leads to his premature disappeared.
From the following Grand Prix, the Austrian driver was replaced by the Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi, who triumphed in the United States Grand Prix thus helping Rindt to win, albeit posthumously, the world title. Adding the points obtained by Rindt, Miles, and Fittipaldi, for a total of 59, the English team also manages to win the constructors' world title.
In 1971 Emerson Fittipaldi and Reine Wisell, aboard the Lotus 72 C and 72 D, struggled to obtain results: the Brazilian driver did not go beyond two third places in Great Britain and Germany, and a second place in Austria, scoring only sixteen championship points. total, while the Swedish driver only scores nine points.
The development work carried out in the factory, with the English team constantly looking for greater downforce thanks to the development of the wings, make Emerson Fittipaldi the youngest World Champion in the history of Formula 1, when in 1972 he won the world title by winning five races and giving Lotus another constructors’ title.
The car was now equipped with a completely black and gold livery as Imperial Tobacco decides to sponsor the new brand launched on the market, the famous John Player Special. Over the course of the season, Fittipaldi wins the Grand Prix of Spain, Belgium, Great Britain, Austria and Italy, finishing on the podium three times, in France and South Africa obtaining two second places, and in Monaco obtaining a third place, totalling sixty-one points world championships, thanks to which Lotus manages to win the constructors' world title for the second time with the same car; teammates, the Australian Dave Walker, the South African Dave Charlton and the Swede Reine Wisell, do not get any useful results.
In addition, the Brazilian driver won three races not valid for the Formula 1 world championship: the Grand Prix of the Italian Republic in Vallelunga, the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos, and the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, winning on all occasions also the pole position.
The 1973 season saw the introduction of new rules aimed at making cars safer. Among these, the requirement of a deformable structure to be made inside the sides of the cars. These new rules lead to a new update of the Lotus 72, which now features integrated sidewalls, a wider body and new wing supports.
After racing with a single tip throughout 1972, in 1973 Chapman added the talented Swedish driver Ronnie Peterson to Fittipaldi, who fell in love with the Lotus 72.
During the season Fittipaldi won a total of three victories in the Argentine, Brazilian and Spanish Grand Prix, as well as three second places in Monaco, Italy and Canada, and two third places in South Africa and Belgium, while teammate Ronnie Peterson , after a disappointing start due to four retirements in the first five races, in the second part of the season he obtained four victories in the Grand Prix of France, Austria, Italy, and in the United States of America, a second place in Great Britain, and a third place in the Principality of Monaco.
Although the drivers 'title was won by Jackie Stewart aboard the Tyrrell-Ford, the 107 total points won by the two Lotus drivers allow Colin Champan to take the third constructors' title with the 72 model.
In 1974 Fittipaldi left Lotus to join McLaren: paradoxically, the Brazilian took the wheel of the M23 model, strictly derived from the Lotus 72. Peterson then became the first driver of the Lotus team, flanked by the excellent Jacky Ickx.
At the beginning of the season the 72 model should be replaced by the Lotus 76, a car that on paper improves all the concepts expressed by the three-time world champion, but the project proves too ambitious and only reports negative results.
Consequently, during the season it was decided to reuse the old Lotus 72, which is further updated by increasing the track both on the front and on the rear axle, in order to remain competitive.
Over the course of the season the car proves to be not very competitive, with Peterson winning only three victories in Monaco, France and Italy, surrounded by a third place in Canada and six seasonal retirements, while Ickx is also the protagonist of numerous retirements, in all nine, but on the occasions in which he reaches the finish line he climbs on the third step of the podium, respectively in Brazil and Great Britain.
Despite the car's poor reliability and its lack of competitiveness, the three victories and the fundamental help of team mate Ickx allow the Swedish Lotus driver to fight for the victory of the world championship until the end.
The two drivers conquered a total of 47 championship points, allowing Lotus to hoist itself into fourth position in the constructors' championship, behind Ferrari, McLaren and Tyrrell.
In 1975 the adventure of the Lotus 72 came to an end with its latest evolution, the 72F. In fact, by now the car turns out to be of old conception and unable to fight on equal terms with the new generation of cars, such as the Brabham BT44.
During the season the reliability problems that characterized the 1974 season continued, forcing both Ickx and Peterson to nine retirements in total; in the races where the drivers see the checkered flag the car is not very competitive, so much so that the Swedish driver only finishes in the points three times, finishing fourth in Monaco and twice in fifth place in Austria and the United States of America, while Ickx only wins a second place at the Spanish Grand Prix.
The few points brought by the drivers at the end of the season, just nine, plunged Colin Chapman's team into sixth position in the constructors' standings.
The 1976 is the last season for the Lotus 72, which is used for the first races of the season without obtaining any relevant results. The Lotus 72, in all its variants, conquers a total of nine fastest laps, twenty victories, seventeen pole positions, eighteen podiums and 252 total world championship points, allowing the team to win the drivers' world title twice, and the title three times. world manufacturers.
The Lotus 72D, despite being designed and built by Team Lotus, was also used by another team, namely Scuderia Scribante, also known as Lucky Strike Racing or Scuderia Scribante Lucky Strike Racing, and by the World Wide Racing team.
This is due to the fact that the teams that were not able to build their cars themselves often bought them from other teams; this is the case of Scuderia Scribante and World Wide Racing, which bought 72D cars from Team Lotus.