Lola T97/30 (1997): an unprecedented fiascoWritten by 'Αγγελος Φωτσεινός
Translated by Giannis Binas
The history of Formula 1 has revealed that a team’s readiness for a decent participation in the sport as soon as its first race, is decided under the basis of the following ‘recipe’:
-Rational allocation of the available resources for the constitution of a qualified technical staff and the design of a competitive single-seater.
-Choosing the best value for money available engine, gearbox, electronic unit, fuel and lubricants.
-Sufficient testing kilometers on track before the first race, in order to find and resolve any possible problems in reliability and deficient pace.
The world of Formula 1 is relentless and for that reason the new teams must deliver a promising package right from the start. Otherwise, with mathematical precision, the dream of participating in the pinnacle of motorsport will sooner or later lead to a nightmare. In the case of Lola, the dream turned into a nightmare after just one grand prix.
The British company was founded in 1958 by Eric Broadley.
Common point with the Italian Dallara and the American Reyanrd was the successful participation in almost every open wheel league, with the exception of the most famous category.
In spite of the continuous efforts since the middle of 1960, Lola hadn’t managed to distinct in Formula 1.
Honda RA300 with which John Surtees won the 1967 Italian GP, was a single-seater developed under the design custody of Lola, but this win is, correctly, recorded in the statistics as a distinction of the Japanese maker.
Lola’s participation in the projects of Embassy Hill, FORCE and Larrousse didn’t bring the awards they expected, while its last, by chronological order, cooperation with BMS Scuderia Italia in 1993, ended up as a complete failure.
Despite the disappointment, Broadley believed that under the right conditions, Lola had many chances of success in F1.
Thus, although he withdrew in the end of 1993, 2 years later he designed a new single-seater that was reckoned to be the ‘weapon’ of a ‘veiled’ Ford factory team.
The Ford scenarios partly proved to be true.
Indeed, Ford had such aspirations, but Stewart Grand Prix was the team that was chosen to realize them.
That way, Lola’s car was confined to some testing kilometers by the hand of Allan McNish.
In the middle of 1996 though, Broadley announced a very important commercial deal with Mastercard, which was a harbinger of Lola’s return to Formula 1 in the near future.
The design of a new single-seater began soon, while the construction of a V10 engine was in the pipeline.
That is to say, the plans involved full works participation, aiming at preparation with development testing during 1997 and return to the grid in 1998.
However, following Mastercard’s pressure, Lola’s comeback to Formula 1 was hastened.
The British team would be present at the paddocks of Albert Park, which would host the Australian GP, inaugural race of the 1997 championship.
That was a decision, which, to a great extent, determined the catastrophic fate of the project.
In a minimum period of time, the single-seater, which was still at the design stage, had to step on the track.
On top of that, it was impossible to simultaneously build the V10: Lola’s technical staff, apart from the F1 project, was responsible of the Indycars one.
At the same time as Lola was announcing its return (November 1996), Stewart they were presenting the car with which they would debut.
It was, therefore, too optimistic for someone to expect that Lola would achieve readiness in Australia.
What happened in the next months solidified the raised disbelief about the chances of that effort.
It was not the choice of the anemic and obsolete Ford’s V8 as the driving force for Lola T97/30 as much to blame as the fact that not even a single test in a wing tunnel was carried out, while the track tests were very few.
Broadley reassured that the aerodynamic findings for Indycar were applicable to the Formula 1 single-seater too. And he didn’t confide to that statement only. He set the newfound Stewart as a point of refenrce, which he was determined they would win, while he left no doubt on any possible inability of qualifying to the race: if they weren’t able to get in the 107%, they did not deserve to be on the grid.
''Fine words butter no parsnips''.
That’s what Broadley must have had in mind, watching the team’s appearance during Friday’s free practice of the Australian GP.
The drivers that were chosen for the 2 cockpits, Italian Vincenzo Sospiri and Brazilian Riccardo Rosset, champion and runner-up in 1995 F3000 respectively, were nearly 10 seconds short of the top times.
With an aerodynamically appalling single-seater that was to doubt if it was faster than the one Lola had built for F3000, nobody could blame the drivers for being insufficient.
With the pace of the two T97/30 falling 4-5 seconds behind of what they needed to qualify, the last free practice session of Saturday was an ordeal not for the faint of heart.
In 1 and a half hours, they had to achieve a huge improvement in performance, while the top times shouldn’t improve further.
And what happened is the exact opposite.
The top drivers, taking advantage of the increasingly better traction of the track, lowered their times from 1:32 to 1:28, while Rosset-Sospiri moved slower compared to Friday.
The time the Brazilian recorded, fell 13 seconds short of the top time, scored By Jacques Villeneuve (Williams Renault).
His Italian team-mate was even slower, 16 seconds behind the Canadian.
Based on the free practice times, the 2 Lolas needed a miracle during the qualifying session to make it to the race.
The gap was chaotic even compared to slower combinations.
Villeneuve was fastest once again (1:29:369) in a fantastic lap: he was the only one with such pace as the other drivers didn’t even make it past 1:31.
Sospiri was 11.6 seconds behind (1:40:972) and Rosset 12.7 (1:42:086).
Both were way behind the 107% (1:35:625 and didn’t qualify.
Pedro Paolo Diniz (Arrows Yamaha) was also outside the 107%, scoring a laptime of 1:35:972.
Nevertheless, he received clearance to enter the race.
At the same time, Stewart, Lola’s rival according to Broadley’s statement, saw both of its drivers (Rubens Barrichello and Jan Magnussen) qualifying with ease.
Broadley hoped that at the 2nd race of the season, in Brazil, he would have the chance to overcome the negative impressions of the Australian fiasco.
On Wednesday prior to the race though, Mastercard withdrew its sponsorship!
If anything, it was uncovered that the deal was somewhat special.
Specifically, it was based on Mastercard attracting new customers through Lola’s successes.
And the more customers she would attract, the higher the amount of the sponsorship would be.
With the number of new clients being minimum compared to the expected plan, it came as no surprise that Mastercard-Lola split.
The remaining sponsors fled in a record of a time.
Then, another, older Broadley’s statement was negated.
There was no alternative funding plan, as he had claimed, while no new sponsor was interested to partner with the team.
With that, a few hours later, Broadley announced that Lola wouldn’t participate in the next GP.
The team’s personnel as well as the two drivers were already in Brazil, when they were informed of the news.
The packed equipment was to be transferred anew at the team’s facilities in Donington, England.
Five days later, the announcement of an immediate withdrawal from Formula 1 would follow.
The accumulated debt (6 million pounds) not only didn’t allow the continuation of the F1 programme, but endangered the entire operations of the firm.
A few months later, the company went to financial administration and changed ownership, switching from the founder Broadley to Alan Birrane.
12 years after the disaster of 1997, Lola announced its intention to enter a team in the 2010 championship, but abandoned the plans after failing to be one of the three choices for the initial entry list (Campos Meta, Manor Grand Prix, USF1).
In 2012, after 55 years of continuous operation, Lola didn’t manage to avoid bankruptcy.
Lola T97/30 (1997)
Designer: Eric Broadley
Engine: Ford Cosworth ED4 3.0 V8
Gearbox: Lola, 6 σχέσεων
Drivers: 24. Vincenzo Sospiri - 25.Riccardo Rosset
Races: - (did not qualify at the Australian Grand Prix)
Constructors’ championship position: - (did not classify)