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Lola Cars – the Survivor

Over the years, F1 has seen countless new teams arrive, compete briefly and then disappear. Very rarely does a new team survive long enough to join the list of the great ones. But there is one constructor that has hovered on the edge of the sport and never gone away, adopting a policy of making F1 cars for others but avoiding direct involvement. I speak of Eric Broadley’s Lola cars, of course.

Lola is the one constructor we would all love to see involved in F1; they have a long history of success in other forms of racing and, if properly funded, would almost certainly produce competitive cars. It will never happen now – FIA rules have as good as killed off the chances of new constructors entering the sport – but we can still dream of what might have been.

The closest Lola came to running their own F1 team was way back in 1962. For that year they produced cars for the Bowmaker Yeoman team to be driven by John Surtees and Roy Salvadori. Its potential was shown by John in gaining pole position for its very first race but results thereafter were disappointing. Lola withdrew from the project at the end of the year.

1962 Lola

John Surtees in the 1962 Lola

From then on, Lola kept at arms length from F1, designing and building cars for others to try their luck. They had a hand in the Honda RA300 of 1967 (which won the Italian GP that year) and there followed a long list of customers. One of the most notable of these was Graham Hill’s team sponsored by Embassy. The car showed promise but its chances were cut short in 1975 by Graham’s tragic death in a flying accident.

Embassy Hill

Graham Hill in the Embassy Hill

Incidentally, in researching for this post, I came across the entry list for the 1974 British GP. I was struck by the numbers of small constructors on the list – Iso-Marlboro (Frank Williams’ team at the time), Trojan, Ensign, Hesketh, Maki, Lyncar and Token, as well as several old works cars entered by private concerns. Most of them did not qualify but at least they had a go. The seventies really were the heyday of the little guy, all thanks to the ubiquitous Cosworth/Hewland combination.

In the late nineties, there was news of yet another attempt by Lola to enter F1, this time as a full works team. Nothing much transpired, however, as promised sponsorship money evaporated and we are left still wondering what would have happened had Lola put all their efforts into F1.

I have said before that Chris Amon was the best driver never to win an F1 race (interestingly, he drove a Lola in 1963). Could it be that Lola was the best F1 car constructor never to enter the sport?

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Teams That Time Forgot (2)

Chris Amon Racing

I have mentioned before that Chris Amon was probably the best driver never to win a World Championship event. If good luck is a crucial part of winning a championship, Chris was the living proof that bad luck can ruin your chances forever. He drove for many good teams in his career but had an uncanny knack for leaving them just as their fortunes were about to take an up-turn. Time after time he led Grand Prix, only for something to go wrong (in the Italian GP of 1971, he was robbed of victory by losing his visor!). Yet his record shows just how good he was: 16 front row starts, 7 pole positions, 3 fastest laps.

Chris Amon

Chris Amon

By 1973, Chris was thoroughly fed up and decided to start his own team, Chris Amon Racing. A couple of cars for himself and Larry Perkins were designed and built for the 1974 season, taking the usual small constructor route of the time – Cosworth DFV engine and Hewland gearbox. But funding was almost non-existent and it soon became apparent that Chris’ luck as a constructor was even worse than as a driver. Although the car featured some innovative features, such as titanium suspension, it was hopelessly uncompetitive and appeared at only six Grand Prix.

The Amon AF 101

The Amon AF 101

The team’s statistics make dismal reading:

Race presences – 6
Race starts – 1
Did not start – 1
Did not qualify – 4
Retired – 1

Perhaps it is no wonder that Chris’ attempt at an F1 team is almost totally forgotten now. One of the cars was rescued and restored to be driven occasionally at historic events but otherwise nothing remains of a project that had such high hopes to begin with.

Chris folded the team that year and drove a BRM for a while, eventually going to Ensign for whom he put up some sterling performances before retiring in disgust in 1976. Over the 14 years of his career, he had 97 starts and scored a total of 83 points.

I have mentioned before my fondness for the might-have-beens of F1. Unfortunately, when it comes to Amon’s team, it’s more a case of was-never-going-to-be…

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