Where It All Began…
Lotus F1 Team has come a long way in in its thirty two year history. Born from a small squad with a successful record in the lower categories, the team first entered the Formula 1 World Championship at the 1981 San Marino Grand Prix under the Toleman Motorsport banner.
Spearheaded by founders Ted Toleman and Alex Hawkridge in conjunction with up and coming designer Rory Byrne, the teams Witney factory would become the starting point of a long and successful history.
Having finished 1st and 2nd in the 1980 European Formula 2 Championship with British drivers Brian Henton and Derek Warwick, Toleman’s entry to Formula 1 was announced in November of that year with the same drivers at the wheel following their success in the F2 championship with the team.
Life amongst the elite of world motorsport began in challenging fashion for the team, as the uncompetitive TG181 failed to qualify until the thirteenth race of the 1981 season, and endured similar struggles the following year to compound a difficult start for the newcomers.
With improved results and increased sponsorship revenue in 1983, the tide began to turn as regular top 10 finishes and a handful of points provided a major boost before the most successful of the team’s five seasons in the sport the following year.
Despite regular driver changes, 1984 brought the spark Toleman needed to raise its profile, as a young Brazilian driver by the name of Ayrton Senna launched the team into both the headlines and the podium places.
Although a downturn in results followed the next year, 1985 would prove a significant turning point in the history of the team as clothing manufacturer Benetton took control of the Witney outfit and Toleman Motorsport became no more within the sport.
From humble beginnings, to the rise of a star, and finally a re-birth with new backers, Toleman experienced quite a transition during its five year stay in the Formula 1. Below is a summary of the team in numbers:
- Debut – 1981 San Marino Grand Prix
- Final Race – 1985 Australian Grand Prix
- Race Weekends – 70 [57 Starts]
- Total Points - 26
- Wins – 0
- Podiums – 3
- Pole Positions – 1
- Fastest Laps – 2
One Of A Kind
Undoubtedly the most famous name to drive under the Toleman banner (although a certain seven time World Champion may disagree), the legendary Ayrton Senna made his Formula 1 debut with the team in the 1984 season.
The Brazilian made an instant impression in the paddock, not to mention on the team. Finishing in the top seven drivers at each Grand Prix he completed during his inaugural season in the sport, Senna took three podiums and demonstrated an immense natural flair behind the wheel.
The finest of these results – incidentally the highest position achieved by the Toleman team – was undoubtedly a P2 finish at the infamous 1984 Monaco Grand Prix. Common belief that Senna was deprived of a potential win remains to this day, after the race was red flagged due to adverse weather conditions with the Brazilian bearing down on future rival Alain Prost.
Needless to say 1984 proved to be a landmark year; not only for Senna himself, but also for Toleman who would subsequently go on to become the Benetton team the following season. Below is an outline of the Brazilian driver’s short career with the team:
- Nationality – Brazilian
- D.O.B. – 21st March 1960
- Debut – 1984 Brazilian Grand Prix
- Final Race – 1984 Portuguese Grand Prix
- Race Weekends – 15
- Championship Position – P9, 1984 (13 Points)
- Best Result – P2, 1984 Monaco Grand Prix
- Best Qualifying – P3, 1984 Portuguese Grand Prix
When Toleman made it’s Formula 1 debut in 1981, the team fielded an all British driver line-up in Brian Henton and Derek Warwick.
The pair endured a tough start to life with the team, with each only managing to qualify for a single race apiece in the 1981 season; Henton at the Italian Grand Prix, and Warwick at the United States (Las Vegas) Grand Prix.
Henton would move on to the Arrows team at the end of that season, while Warwick remained loyal to Toleman for the next two seasons, picking up the outfit’s first fastest lap at the 1982 Dutch Grand Prix and claiming two P4 finishes at the Dutch and South African Grands Prix in 1983.
The Toleman Mafia
During the team’s brief existence in Formula 1 under the Toleman name, no less than four Italians would take the wheel of one of the outfit’s creations.
The most successful among them was undoubtedly Teo Fabi, who would not only become the team’s second most capped driver – with twenty seven appearances during his three year stay – but would also claim the team’s first pole position at the 1985 German Grand Prix.
Bruno Giacomelli also enjoyed reasonable success with Toleman, achieving three top ten finishes during his single season with the team. Pierluigi Martini stepped in to fill Ayrton Senna’s seat at the 1984 Italian Grand Prix after it emerged the Brazilian had signed a contract to make a switch to the Lotus team, while Piercarlo Ghinzani’s sole appearance came at the 1985 Austrian Grand Prix, with the team having run a single car up to that stage of the season due to budget constraints.
A Rare Breed
Johnny Cecotto and Stefan Johansson, who both competed for Toleman during the 1984 season, remain rare examples of their kind to this day; Cecotto being one of only three Venezuelan drivers in the Formula 1 history, and Johansson one of only nine Swedes to compete in the sport.
Despite completing only 13 races between them in the 1984 season, both achieved top ten finishes; Cecotto in the Canadian Grand Prix, and Johansson in the Portuguese Grand Prix. The former would undoubtedly have continued to demonstrate his potential, but was unfortunate to break both legs during testing for the 1984 British Grand Prix, subsequently bringing his Formula 1 career to an end.
The Birth Of A Legend
Easily the most nail-biting and intense race of the Toleman era, the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix marked the rise to prominence of future three-time World Champion Ayrton Senna.
Having qualified in P13 on the grid around the famous roads of Monte Carlo, Senna produced a wet weather driving masterclass to guide his TG184 through the narrow streets and into contention for the lead of the race.
With the Brazilian closing fast on race leader Alain Prost, the race was brought to a premature end by clerk of the course Jacky Ickx after Prost had consistently waved to the pit wall to indicate his feelings that conditions were too dangerous to continue.
Senna passed future rival Prost just before the finish line on the final lap of running, but with results being counted back to the previous lap the victory was awarded to the Frenchman.
The result was not only the first podium and all-time best finish achieved by the Toleman team, but also signalled the start of a spectacular career for Senna who set his first fastest race lap during the Grand Prix in addition to clinching his inaugural first podium finish.
1984 Monaco Grand Prix:
- Venue – Circuit de Monaco, Monte Carlo
- Weather Conditions – Heavy Rain
- Chassis – Toleman TG184
- Engine – Hart 415T
- Drivers – Ayrton Senna (BRA), Johnny Cecotto (VEN)
- Qualifying – P13 (Senna) / P18 (Cecotto)
- Result – P2 (Senna) / DNF (Cecotto – Spun Off, Lap 1)
- Fastest Lap – Senna (1:54.334)
The 1983 Dutch Grand Prix arguably produced the first significant landmark in Toleman’s history. Having endured a difficult opening two seasons in the sport, the Zandvoort circuit yielded the first points finish for the team as Derek Warwick brought his T183B home in P4 after qualifying in P7 for the race.
In a year of few high points, a feeling of optimism finally descended on the Toleman garage at the 1981 Italian Grand Prix, when Brian Henton gave the team its first Grand Prix finish at the Monza circuit, picking his way through multiple incidents to bring the TG181 home in P10.
A Few to Forget
The 1981 Monaco Grand Prix proved to be a dismal affair for the team, with both drivers failing to pre-qualify their TG181 cars around the tight Monte Carlo streets. A very early pack up and a lot to think about for the team on the long drive back to Witney.
Feelings of optimism for Toleman at the 1982 Italian Grand Prix were quickly dashed following a disastrous debut for the team’s latest creation; the TG183. With both drivers having made it through qualifying, Derek Warwick’s race was over almost as soon as it began having been caught up in a collision with Williams driver Derek Daly and former team-mate Brian Henton. Just two laps later, Teo Fabi in the sister car would also retire with an engine failure.