The Lotus 79 represents the last Formula 1 single-seater world champion of the British team led by Colin Champan, who won the drivers and constructors' titles of the 1978 Formula 1 World Championship. The car was nicknamed Black Beauty for its proportionate shapes and livery. black of the sponsor John Player Special, and is still considered one of the most technically significant single-seaters in the history of Formula 1.
Designed by Martin Ogilvie and Peter Wright, the Lotus 79 brings to the maximum completion the research on aerodynamics carried out in great secrecy over the years, partly already expressed in the previous model, the Lotus 78. A new term will be used later to define these cars: ground effect.
The idea behind the project is to exploit the Venturi effect, a phenomenon discovered by the Italian physicist of the same name and known since the end of the eighteenth century, concerning the speed of flows.
The Lotus engineers shape the underbody of the car, in particular the side boxes that house the radiators, in order to obtain an inverted wing profile which, together with the road profile and the presence of the side skirts, mounted in the lower area of the sides themselves, they constitute a converging-diverging duct, or a Venturi duct.
The air conveyed in this channel is actually accelerated due to the narrowing of the main section, causing a strong lowering of the static pressure, resulting in an increase in downforce which, contrary to that obtained by the wing appendages, causes only a minimal increase in resistance aerodynamics, thus making the car much faster in both corners and straights.
Compared to the model called 78, the new car has a low and sleek line, characterized by the classic black color with gold piping in homage to the sponsor John Player Special.
The concept of the Venturi duct had already been successfully applied aboard the Lotus 78, so to improve its performance the engineers focus a lot on the rear of the car, extending the Venturi ducts up to the rear wheels, where the bodywork ends too. with the first experiment of tapered sides in a bottleneck or Coca-Cola style.
The bonnet completely covers all the rear mechanics, revealing only the tail of the transmission, while the exhausts are arranged centrally above the flat terminal section, immediately after the shaping of the intake box of the eight-cylinder Ford Cosworth, in such a way as to have the terminals that blow under the profile of the rear wing.
Combined with a five-speed Hewland FG400 manual transmission, as just described, there is a 2997 cubic centimeter Ford Cosworth DFV V8, capable of unleashing a power of about 480 horsepower.
The sides, on the other hand, in the upper part and near the wheels, have particular appendages applied to their ends, with the function of cleaning the flow destined for the rear wing, which is hooked to the car by means of two extensions of the body profiles inserted to the inner sides of the rear tires. The rear suspension is also completely redesigned, in order to improve the extraction of air from the venturi ducts located just below the sides.
The cooling system is completely redesigned compared to the previous model, precisely to be able to increase the ground effect in the best possible way.
The shell is made of Honeycomb, with the modern technique of aluminium honeycomb panels that acts as a coating for the entire structure, making it significantly more rigid than the shell of the 78 model. improved efficiency, given the loads to which the entire car body is now subjected with the use of side skirts. The Lotus 79 was secretly tested by Ronnie Peterson already during the winter of 1977, and immediately proved to be very fast: the values collected in the field by the technicians are clear, and show an increase of about thirty percent of the aerodynamic load compared to the Lotus 78.
The winning ground effect
At its debut, the Lotus 79 immediately proved to be the fastest of all the competitors, beating all the lap records previously recorded, and only retirements due to mechanical failures prevent it from winning all the races in which it is used. The car will become an example for everyone, even if the other Formula 1 teams will take at least a year to discover the reason that benefits the Lotus 79.
Despite these premises, the car does not turn out to be perfect, since on particularly hot days the cooling system, sacrificed to make room for the refinement of the ground effect, is unable to evacuate all the heat generated near the refined exhaust area. In addition, the braking system is also inefficient and often, towards the end of the Grand Prix, the drivers are forced to slow down.
The season of the Lotus 79 takes part only starting from the fourth Grand Prix scheduled in 1978, taking advantage of the time necessary to fine-tune it in the best possible way after the stiffness problems revealed during the winter tests.
In the meantime, the 78 model, already used and winning during the 1977 season, replaces it worthily, so much so that the Italian-American Mario Andretti immediately wins the opening race of the World Championship in Argentina, followed by a victory for Peterson in South Africa, and a second place in Long Beach always conquered by Andretti.
On the occasion of the Belgian Grand Prix, on the Zolder circuit, the Lotus 79 makes its debut, and immediately scores an amazing double with Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson.
The 79 also strongly wins the next race in Spain, on the Jarama circuit, obviously always with Andretti, followed diligently by Peterson. After a setback in Sweden, the car returns to victory in France with the usual Andretti, who rises higher and higher at the top of the World Championship.
Not even the double retirement due to technical problems occurred at Brands Hatch stops the climb to the world of Lotus, which are always the fastest cars on the track, although showing some small reliability problems due to the extremization of some concepts typical of Colin's inspiration Chapman. Despite being Andretti's year, the teammate takes advantage of the US driver's accident retirement in Zeltweg to win the Austrian Grand Prix, after starting from pole and having peremptorily bent all his opponents: the runner-up, Patrick Depailler on Tyrrell, arrived with forty-eight seconds behind the finish line.
The season is in its final stages, and ready for a triumph for the colors of the British team: in Monza Ronnie Peterson is the protagonist of a serious accident in the excited phases of the start, which involves the emergency transport to the hospital, and Mario Andretti despite being disqualified despite having crossed the finish line first, he wins the Formula 1 World Championship.
The season ends without further good results. Peterson is replaced by Jean-Pierre Jarier, and his quick adaptation to the Lotus 79 will demonstrate how the car is extremely fast and efficient, certainly the best among the participating cars, winning both the constructors' title and the one reserved for drivers with Mario Andretti.
The following year, the results will disappoint expectations, and the drivers Mario Andretti, Carlos Reutemann and Jean-Pierre Jarier, who runs the first two races of the season, will not go beyond a second and a third place in Spain and Monaco, results obtained by the Argentine driver, while the Italian-American only gets a podium at the Spanish Grand Prix.
The Lotus 79 concludes its history with six wins, eight podiums, ten pole positions and five fastest laps in the race, conquering a total of 115 world championship points and winning pilots and constructors’ world championships in 1978, while in 1979 he will win only 34 world championship points.