Lotus is an evocative name in Formula 1, synonymous with some of the most inventive and successful Grand Prix cars ever made. Colin Chapman was a gifted inventor and team owner, producing some frighteningly fast racing cars and forging ties with some of the most talented drivers of the time. By pushing the boundaries of design and throwing away conventional wisdom, Chapman moved the sport into new eras and beat the established big teams at their own game. Chapman’s untimely death in 1982 was the start of a decline for the Lotus name which ultimately saw the Formula 1 team fold in 1994.
Although the sports car maker has continued to operate and produce successful models like the Elise, the racing name Team Lotus was sold and has had a somewhat chequered history since. What we now know as Lotus F1 team uses the name today in Formula 1 for marketing reasons but the organisations underneath has its own independent heritage under a completely different name and heritage. With mounting debts and uncertain ownership however, the Lotus name is once again in trouble.
Team Lotus was formed as far back as 1952, and in its time as a constructor it won 79 Grand Prix, 7 constructors titles and 6 driver titles. As we have already touched upon however, the current Lotus F1 team bears little resemblance to the historic Team Lotus other than in name.
The Toleman F1 team, formed back in 1981 was in fact the foundation stone for the team we see today. In its short tenure, Toleman was most famous for launching the Formula 1 career of Ayrton Senna and his near win in the rain soaked 1984 Monaco Grand Prix. The team was also the place where engineers Rory Bryne and Pat Symonds cut their teeth and learnt their craft.
A takeover and change of team name in 1985 started the Benetton era and an expansion which ultimately led to the hiring of Michael Schumacher in 1991. In partnership Bryne, Symonds and Ross Brawn built the Benetton team into a world championship winning outfit, beating the mighty Williams-Renault to the title in 1994 and 1995. Benetton never had the funding enjoyed by McLaren, Williams and Ferrari but the group pushed hard in several technical and operational areas and took its rivals by surprise. It was during this period that questions were first raised about the legality and ethics of some of the team’s practices and controversy was never far away. Rumours of illegal traction control, tampering with refuelling equipment and disqualification over an worn under floor plank marred much of the ’94 season. Despite this, Schumacher held on and won by a single point in Adelaide, then dominated the following season once allied to the more powerful Renault engine at that time.
Schumacher’s departure to Ferrari in 1996 took with it some of the teams best technical people and a lean period followed but the team was bought by Renault in 2000 to become its works team under the technical direction of Mike Gascogne. Fernando Alonso brought the team 2 more world titles in 2005 and 2006 but controversy returned in 2008 with Nelson Piquet junior’s infamous crash at the Singaporean GP which allowed Alonso to win against expectation.
Renault scaled back its funding and ultimately withdrew as a chassis constructor during the following seasons at which point the team was bought by Genii Capital investment group and rebranded as Lotus F1. It appears that the team will now go full circle with Renault poised to buy it once again and re-enter Formula 1 as a works team in 2016 but until that is confirmed the future of the team and its employees hangs in the balance.
Where is it ?
Lotus F1 team lies at the very heart of the UK’s motorsport valley in a very quiet and remote corner of rural Oxfordshire. Having outgrown the original Toleman and Benetton factory in Witney, the team moved to its current location near the small village of Enstone (population 1,100) and has expanded the site on a number of occasions since as the facilities and demands of the business have grown.
Lying several miles outside of Enstone itself, the site is very remote and far removed from the high technology centres that many envisage for the Formula 1 industry. The location does however allow the team plenty of space to expand and a substantial new CFD area was added to the factory in 2009 which is partially underground to protect the rural landscape.
Step outside of the factory gates at Lotus and you will find yourself on a quiet country lane with no shops, houses or infrastructure in sight. Enstone itself is very small and has a population barely bigger than the workforce at Lotus but has a garage and a few small shops should you need them. Notable residents include UK prime minister David Cameron who’s constituency home is just outside the village and Jeremy Clarkson the now ex-presenter of BBC Top Gear also lives nearby. Chipping Norton is the largest local town of note and the area is well visited courtesy of the World Heritage site at Blenheim Palace. The factory is also within easy reach of the university city of Oxford where many of the team’s employees choose to live.
The video below is a strangely silent tour of the factory at Enstone but gives you an idea of what kind of facilities the team has.
What is it like to work there?
Ignoring the current financial and ownership issues that are affecting the team, Lotus has been a hugely successful team over the past few decades and has shown great technical and operational ingenuity. The core of the team remains fundamentally the same as that which won world championships back in the 2000’s and it has demonstrated time and time again that it knows how to produce a fast racing car. The facilities at Enstone are excellent and although investment has been lacking lately, the team retains the capability to take on the big boys and is always a threat for Grand Prix wins and even world championships.
Even over the years of its world championship wins, the team resisted the urge to over expand and has retained its small and agile structure which is so crucial to any competitive Formula 1 team. A flat and relaxed atmosphere within the team allows it to get the most out of its people and it has proven that even in difficult financial times it can remain competitive.
Ownership of the team in recent seasons has however been unpredictable and numerous redundancies were necessary in the wake of Renault’s last withdrawal. Mounting debts and unpaid bills have left the team on the brink of closure a number of times and the team is not in the best of health it seems. Working under this uncertainty is always difficult but the team are racers at heart and have continued to throw themselves into their work despite the threats that hang over them. Those efforts were rewarded with a fantastic podium finish for Romain Grosjean at the recent Belgian GP. A takeover by Renault now seems the only way for the team to survive but confirmation is yet to come and until then the working conditions at Lotus remain difficult.
I fully expect that renewed investment in a works Renault F1 team at Enstone will bring this team back to being a regular front runner and restore it as a powerhouse in Formula 1. Joining Lotus in this kind of atmosphere would be a risk but potentially there are very good times ahead and it would be a risk worth taking.
How do I get a job there?
Lotus have an excellent recruitment section on their website with current vacancies and information about the team.
The website details a comprehensive amount of information about their graduate, apprenticeships and work experience programmes. Information includes when to apply and what qualifications you will be expected to have.
Its well worth a thorough read even if there are no relevant vacancies at this point in time as some of the information and advice is excellent.
Another place to keep an eye out would be racestaff.com as up to quite recently they had an exclusive deal to advertise Lotus F1 vacancies.
As always there is also Autosport :
Where do I find out more ?
Lotus has quite a comprehensive career guide on its website, with a useful section entitled “I want to be a…” in which a current employee describes their job role and how they got started in racing.
You can see who else works at Lotus either by going to the LinkedIn page above and finding the employee list or by clicking here. It’s useful for seeing what type of roles there are and also checking out people’s career histories prior to being at Lotus.
In a previous guise (as Renault F1), sponsor ING made a series of behind the scenes videos about the team, including this one about how to go about getting a job in F1.
Ian Goddard is the graduate programme manager at Lotus and is very active with students at both Oxford Brookes and at Cranfield University. Lotus has taken on a significant number of graduates and placement students over the past few years and I would expect that to continue especially if new funding from Renault arrives.
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