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Almost a Grand Prix driver
He had already founded Lotus and helped design that year’s Vanwall by the time G.A.Vandervell’s team entered three cars for that race. Chapman was listed alongside Mike Hawthorn and Harry Schell and the American set a time that was good enough for fifth on the grid in Chapman’s car.
That was credited in error to the Englishman but Chapman could not take up his elevated place on the grid. He locked a brake later in practice and ran into the back of Hawthorn’s car. With only enough time to repair one Vanwall, Chapman did not start the race.
Amateur racing driver and design genius
The son of a London hotelier, Chapman was no mean driver in sports cars and club events. He drove a Lotus 11-Climax at Le Mans that summer and finished sixth at Sebring in 1958, but it was as a team owner that he thrived.
Trained as a structural engineer at University College London and briefly in the Royal Air Force during his 1948 national service, Chapman modified an Austin Seven that year to create the Lotus Mk1 trials car. It was the introduction of the Lotus Mk7 production sports car in 1957 that truly established his new marque and that basic design is still manufactured today.
Lotus entered the F1 World Championship in 1958 and was winning two years later thanks to Stirling Moss and Rob Walker Racing. Over the next three decades Chapman and Lotus introduced a series of innovations that revolutionised F1 design and delivered seven constructors’ titles. The monocoque chassis, using the Ford DFV as a stressed part of the chassis, aerodynamic wings and ground effects all had Chapman and Lotus at the heart of conception.
Jim Clark (twice), Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt (posthumously), Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti all won the drivers’ title in a Lotus but the team entered a fallow period after the American’s 1978 triumph. It was four more years before Elio de Angelis’ 1982 Austrian GP victory but a new Renault engine deal for the following season suggested a return to the front of the grid.
Lotus entered into an ill-fated agreement with the De Lorean car company as Chapman strove to steer it through a difficult time. He suffered a fatal heart attack after returning home from a F1 Commission meeting in Paris. That robbed Lotus and the sport in general of a charismatic pioneer when just 54 years old.