Lotus 49, the first rear-engined single-seater in the history of Formula 1



The Lotus 49 is a single-seater designed by Colin Chapman and Maurice Philippe to be able to compete in the 1967 Formula One world championship. This is designed to house the Ford Cosworth DFV engine, the same that would have equipped many other single-seaters during the seventies. and it is also the first single-seater in which the engine also acts as a structural member.


Jim Clark leads her to victory in the first race of the 1967 season, and with the same Lotus 49 she will also get the last victory of her career in the 1968 season. Graham Hill will then go on to win the drivers' title and the 49 (in the latest version, C) will continue to compete until 1970.


In 1967 the Lotus 49 presented itself to the public with its classic British green livery, but in the following sixteen months the bodywork will present sponsors and the names of the drivers above the basic scheme, while a year later, on the occasion of the Monaco Grand Prix, the car will appear with a new color consisting of red, cream white and gold, the colors of the Gold Leaf cigarettes, leading the way in the advertising business within the highest category.


After a first year of difficulties for Team Lotus due to the regulations in the 3000 cm³ engines, Colin Chapman decides to study a new car, focusing on a simple design but at the same time extremely effective and far superior to the competition: taking the Inspired by the Lotus 43 and 38 Indycar, the 49 model is the first Formula 1 car to be powered by the famous Ford Cosworth DFV engine, following pressing requests to the American manufacturer to build a platform for the top series by the same Chapman.


The Lotus 49 has a successful design ahead of the times, thanks to the particular configuration of the engine and chassis. The engine, a three-liter V8 90° Ford Cosworth with a power of about 400 horsepower, specially designed for the English team, now acts as a structural member capable of supporting the rest of the body on one side, and the suspension and gearbox on the other. An extremely innovative solution, so much so that all future Formula 1 cars will follow this principle.


The Lotus 49 is a test bed from every point of view, introducing airfoil ailerons starting from the 1968 season. Originally the wings are attached directly to the suspension, subsequently extending in width and height to be aerodynamically effective.


However, after some failures that cause near-fatal accidents, the big wings will be banned and Team Lotus will be forced to anchor the ailerons directly to the chassis of their cars.


Ford finances the project with 100.000 pounds, and to build the famous DFV, the FVA, also produced by Ford and already used in Formula 2 races, is used as a starting point. The first step of the engineers is to ideally combine two FVA monoblocks, characterized by a four-cylinder in-line, thus giving rise to an eight-cylinder V, whose bank angle is equal to 90°.


The new engine, with its V-shaped architecture, is characterized by a particularly low center of gravity, combined with rather small dimensions and relative ease of installation.


According to the regulation introduced in 1966, the displacement of Formula 1 engines is set at 3.000 cm³, while the FVA has a size of only 1.600 cm³; therefore, the first prototype of the engine is equipped with a total displacement of 3.200 cm³.


Subsequently, according to this characteristic, the technicians began to work on the stroke and above all on the piston bore, re-proposing the proportions of the four-cylinder: reducing the V8, while maintaining the reliability of the engine unchanged.


However, the element on which the greatest attention is focused is the cylinder head: in fact, to maintain the compression ratio and the overall competitiveness of the FVA, we try to make the DFV cylinder head as similar as possible to the four-cylinder used for its creation.


The engine is made entirely of light aluminium alloy, and its weight is in the order of 163 kilos. Distribution is four valves per cylinder, all driven by four overhead camshafts and driven by a cascade of gears, while the power generated by the first 1967 version is approximately 400 horsepower, with a rotation of 9-000 rpm. The powerful DFV is combined with a Hewland transmission instead of the ZF.


From the frame point of view, however, the 49 model designed by Maurice Philippe consists of an integral monocoque with a load-bearing body frame made of aluminum panels, while the fuel tanks are arranged inside the side box elements.


The engine is an integral part of the structure and acts as a support for the rear suspension with upper arms, front triangles and longitudinal struts, while at the front the suspensions are oscillating triangles with a faired upper arm, joined to the end of the body.


Development activities


In 1968 a T version of the Lotus 49 was developed, with the specifications dictated by the Formula Tasman in which the English team participates, while as regards the top series a version B of the car was introduced during the season: the first change consists in the gearbox of the livery, now composed of the colors red, cream white and gold, characteristic of the tobacconist sponsor Gold Leaf; then, in France, the rear wing profiles applied directly on the uprights are adopted for the first time, while in Italy some innovations are introduced concerning the front part in the nose area, where additional ogive air vents are obtained which greatly improve downforce.


At the beginning of the season, however, the suspension design was changed due to a marked instability in braking accused during the 1967 season, caused by the use of the new Firestone tires with a wider section, with the wheelbase increasing by about five centimeters.


In 1969 the Lotus 49B continued to be used, as the futuristic four-wheel drive Lotus 63 showed not a few tuning problems. The car is modified in compliance with the new safety regulations in terms of roll bar, a factor that increases its dimensions considerably to improve the protection of the drivers' head.


Unfortunately, the 49B, a very reliable car in itself, already showed the signs of time in the middle of 1969, suffering the difference in performance with the Matra MS80 Ford Cosworth of Team Tyrrell, driven by Jackie Stewart in the race.


In view of the 1970 season, Colin Chapman and Maurice Philippe set to work on a new single-seater, the revolutionary Lotus 72, after the 63 4WD project was declared too complex and therefore abandoned, also due to Rindt's peremptory refusal to drive the car.


The designers' efforts are therefore concentrated on project 72, which however is not ready in time to start the championship from the first race. It thus folds back on the 49 now brought to specification C, and adapted to the rules introduced in 1970 relating to 13-inch front tires.


To obviate the different size of the wheels, Chapman and Philippe obviously design new hubs and revised uprights to accommodate the rims with a new diameter, while the wing appendages, now lower since mid-1969, are modified by adopting the triplane element at the rear.


The 1967 season


In testing the Lotus 49 Graham Hill declares that he is faced with an extremely manageable and easy to drive car, noting the only flaw in the sudden power surges of the Ford V8.


Despite this, Jim Clark wins the first race of the championship in Zandvoort at the first exit of the Lotus 49, on the occasion of the Dutch Grand Prix, winning three more races in Great Britain, USA and Mexico, while finishing only once on the podium on the occasion of the Italian Grand Prix, in which he finished third. Graham Hill, on the other hand, does not go beyond two second places in Monaco and the USA, and a fourth place in Canada, retiring on all other occasions.


But the unreliability of the DFV engine almost immediately extinguishes the hopes of winning the 1967 title, as Graham Hill suffers problems in his first race, while the teammate is betrayed by the spark plugs at Spa-Francorchamps, during the Grand Prix of the Belgium.


The two drivers are protagonists of other retirements at the French Grand Prix in Le Mans, in the Bugatti Circuit, while Jim Clark does not finish the race in Monza due to lack of fuel.


Nevertheless, it is clear and evident to everyone that the new Lotus 49 is very competitive and the first positive tests arrive as soon as the Cosworth makes the necessary improvements to the engine the following season.


The 1968 season


The following year, Jim Clark wins the inaugural race in South Africa, and the Tasman Series in Australia, followed by English teammate Hill, before dying prematurely a few weeks later in Hockenheim, during a Formula 2 race on board of the Lotus 48.


At the second Grand Prix of the season in Spain, Graham Hill took the reins of the team by winning his first race of the season, and replicating the same result in Monaco as well.


In the following four races the English driver retires three times in Belgium, France and Great Britain, returning to the podium in Germany and Italy with two second places, while returning to victory in the last Grand Prix of the season in Mexico.


These results allow Graham Hill to win the world title with 48 points in the standings, while thanks to the nine points Clark and the six points of Jackie Oliver, who conquers a third place in Mexico, Lotus is confirmed in first place in the classification reserved for builders team.


The Lotus 49 was to be replaced by the Lotus 63 in the course of 1969, but as the latter proves unsuccessful and unreliable, the Lotus 49 will continue to compete in its place awaiting another new model.


For the 1969 season, the Austrian Austrian driver Jochen Rindt, considered the most talented driver in circulation together with Jackie Stewart, was taken from Brabham. In the meantime, the development experiments of the model 63 prove to be really problematic and Chapman decides to continue with the 49B.


Although the car is conceptually surpassed by rival cars, Rindt's talent often masks these differences, so much so that the Austrian is the author of memorable races during the championship: at Silverstone the Austrian comes fourth despite a suspension failure, at Monza he places second behind Stewart, and finally wins his first Grand Prix of the season in the United States, at Watkins Glen, while Graham Hill takes a second place in South Africa and victory in the Principality of Monaco.


The life of the Lotus 49 is eternal, and in view of the 1970 season Colin Chapman and Maurice Philippe set to work on the Lotus 72, setting aside the project of the model 63, and bringing an evolution C of the model 49, waiting for the innovative one to be ready Lotus 72.


Although the car is now antiquated, the 49C will still have something to say: in Monte Carlo, an anomalous track different from all the others, the Austrian driver returns to victory after Jack Brabham, in the lead, makes a mistake by going long to the old curve of the Gasometro precisely because of the suffocating pressing of the Austrian of the Lotus.


The Monegasque victory is the last in career for the Lotus 49, which sees its replacement in favor of the brand-new Lotus 72, with which the English team is once again at the top of the highest world championship category.


In this period the Formula 1 cars also race in alternative championships in Australia and South Africa, therefore the 49, considered reliable as well as easy to set up, will also be used in these championships, obtaining overwhelming victories. This will be the last burst of pride before technological progress and innovation handed it over to museums or wealthy collectors of racing memorabilia.


Nowadays, almost all the examples of this single-seater have survived, and after a careful restoration they make a fine show at the events dedicated to vintage cars, as well as being used by their respective owners in competitions reserved for them. In total, the Lotus 49 achieved twelve victories and the victory of the drivers and constructors' championship in 1968.


Andrea Rasponi

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