The Essex Racing Team Lotus, Mario Andretti, Elio De Angelis and Nigel Mansell, 1980 Lotus 81 Ground Effect Formula 1

In the history of Formula 1 Team Lotus is a team that should need no introduction. From the late 1950s through the 1990s, Colin Chapman and his team’s ground-breaking designs have been directly responsible for some of the most significant shifts in the sport’s technological landscape. One of the most successful teams in the history of Formula One, winning multiple Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships, Lotus were not only one of the first teams to utilise the advantages of the Cosworth DFV engine, they were also trail blazers in the field of ground effect design. Donning some of the most iconic liveries of all time, they also boasted a driver line up comprised of some of the most famous drivers of their times, including Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Ronnie Peterson, Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell and of course Ayrton Senna. Two of these legendary names drove the car we have the privilege of offering here for sale.

From the debut of their Lotus 49 in 1967, Lotus soon emerged as a dominant force in the new 3-litre Formula 1 era gaining both Graham Hill and Jochen Rindt the Drivers World Championships in 1968 and 1970 respectively. The teams dominance continued with the iconic Lotus 72. Designed by Colin Chapman and Maurice Philippe the car featured a wedge-shaped design and advanced aerodynamics for its time. Powered by the Cosworth DFV engine, the Lotus 72 won three Constructors’ Championships in 1970, 1972 and 1973 and two Drivers’ Championships with Jochen Rindt in 1970 and Emerson Fittipaldi in 1972 and it would go on to become one of the most successful cars in Formula 1 history.

The Lotus 79 is another iconic car in Lotus’ history. Designed by Colin Chapman, Geoff Aldridge, and Martin Ogilvie. The car introduced the concept of ground effects aerodynamics, which significantly improved cornering performance. With the DFV engine, the Lotus 79 won the Constructors’ Championship in 1978.

The Lotus 81 was a Formula 1 car designed for and raced by Team Lotus during the 1980 Formula 1 season. Designed as a replacement for the Lotus 79, it was built to comply with the new regulations set by the FIA for that season. The chassis of the Lotus 81 was constructed from aluminium monocoque. It featured a more traditional wing and sidepod design compared to its predecessor, the Lotus 79. The car had a slightly longer wheelbase and was narrower to improve its aerodynamics. Powered by the Ford Cosworth DFV V8 engine and running on Goodyear tyres, the Lotus 81 showed promise, while facing tough competition from other teams, including Williams and Brabham.

The Lotus 81 was driven by a number of talented drivers during the 1980 and 81 season, including Elio De Angelis, Mario Andretti, and World Champion Nigel Mansell. While the Lotus 81 showed potential, it did not manage to clinch a win at any races during the 1980 season. The teams best result that year was a second-place finish achieved by Elio De Angelis, in this car at the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos.

Not only was Colin Chapman an innovator in design he was also one of the early trail blazers in the field of sponsorship in Formula 1. Having already made the Gold Leaf and John Player Special cigarette brands a house hold name in Formula 1, it was the turn of Essex Petroleum for the Lotus 81.

Essex Petrolium was owned and run by the larger than life character David Thieme. Son of the designer of the glider aircraft used by the US Army during World War II, he attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, studying industrial design and in the late 1960s made a fortune in industrial design, investing some of his profits in oil. Establishing the Essex Overseas Petroleum Corporation in 1973, he bought oil when demand was low and sold it for substantial profit when there was a demand. By 1979 Thieme was able to indulge his passion for motor racing, sponsoring the side-pods of World Champions Lotus with drivers Mario Andretti and Carlos Reutemann as well as two Porsche 936s at Le Mans for drivers Bob Wollek, Hurley Haywood, Jacky Ickx and Brian Redman.

In 1980 Lotus built a series of 100 Turbo Esprit cars in Essex colours and Thieme announced that he was becoming the title sponsor of the team with Elio De Angelis and Mario Andretti and a third car on occasion for Nigel Mansell. Essex continued as the team’s principal sponsor in 1981, but by then the oil markets had taken a serious downturn following the revolution in Iran and the Iran-Iraq war. A disagreement with backer Credit Suisse resulted in Thieme being arrested in Zurich on charges brought by the banking giant. He was released after a fortnight, but by the middle of the year Essex had disappeared from the cars.

This Car: 81/1

This car, chassis 81/1 was the first of 5 chassis built for the 1980 Formula 1 season. Launched at a spectacular event at the Royal Albert Hall, it went on to secure the highest placed finish of all four of the cars raced.

1980 Formula 1 Season

Argentinian Grand Prix, Buenos Aires 13th of January

Chassis 81/1 made its debut at the Argentinian Grand Prix in Buenos Aires, driven by Elio De Angelis. Getting off to a good start placing 3rd place in the first practice session with a time of 1:45.46. For the race, he started 5th on the grid, just 0.4 seconds behind Piquet in the Brabham. Sadly his race was cut short when he retired on lap 7 due to a broken damper after colliding with Patrese.

Brazilian Grand Prix, Interlagos 27th of January

In the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos, Elio De Angelis continued to drive 81/1. He secured 9th position in the first practice session and improved to 5th in the second practice session, closely following Rene Arnoux in the Renault, before finally starting 7th in the race. From here he delivered an outstanding performance. Taking advantage of Villeneuve’s bad start and Reutemann’s accident he had already made up two places and by lap 4 found himself in 4th place with Alan Jones’ Williams close behind.

By lap 13 he was up to 3rd place and by lap 24 he was up to 2nd after Jabouille’s turbo had failed in his Renault. Just past the half way point and De Angelis noticed his front left tyre starting to go off, causing the car to increasingly understeer, allowing Arnoux’s Renault to creep away into the distance. Nursing the front tyres he hung in there to take an impressive 2nd overall, just 22 seconds behind Rene Arnoux in the Renault. Quoted after the race he said “I could’ve won the race if the car stayed like it was in the beginning”.

South African Grand Prix, Kyalami 1st of March

The South African Grand Prix at Kyalami, saw Elio De Angelis once again behind the wheel of 81/1. Starting 14th alongside Jean-Pierre Jarrier, unfortunately, his race ended abruptly due to an accident on the first lap. With 81/1 not wanting to start for the green flag lap, the team rushed to help, and even once the race had started, he was still sat helplessly on the grid as everyone else charged away. Finally getting going, Elio was understandably frustrated and as a result made a rushed move into Leeukop, clipping wheels with John Watson’s McLaren and resulting in a spin that left the Lotus abandoned in the gravel. De Angelis himself said “ I should’ve waited a bit ”.

United States Grand Prix West, Long Beach 30th of March

The United States Grand Prix West in Long Beach saw Mario Andretti at the helm of 81/1 for the first time but only in practice. This was the first weekend that Lotus were running their newly revised gearbox and rear suspension pick up, with the rear dampers, tucked up between the gearbox and oil tank out of the airstream.

Belgian Grand Prix, Zolder 4th of May, the Monaco Grand Prix 18th of May and the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama on the 1st of June.

At the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder, 81/1 was only used in practice, but was driven by both Mario Andretti and Elio De Angelis. 81/1 then remained a spare car for the Monaco Grand Prix and the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama.

French Grand Prix, Paul Ricard 29th of June

For the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, Mario Andretti was back behind the wheel of 81/1. He secured 17th position in the first practice session having spent 20 minutes in the pits due to issues with his side skirts and engine trouble. Once sorted he shaved a second off his time to qualify12th. Dropping a place at the start he found himself dicing with the Arrows of Patrese and Mass until gear selection issues caused him to pit and eventually retire on lap 18.

British Grand Prix, Brands Hatch 13th of July

At Brands Hatch for the British Grand Prix Mario Andretti qualified 81/1 in 9th position behind Depailler and Prost. In the race he was running in 5th position by lap 31 in a Tyrell sandwich ahead of Jarrier and chasing Derek Daley in the sister car. With a strong finish in sight, sadly he was forced to retire on lap 57, with another gearbox failure.

German Grand Prix, Hockenheim 10th of August

In the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, Mario Andretti was back in 81/1. A fuel metering unit problem caused a lack of pace on the Friday. The team took the opportunity to do an engine swap overnight and despite being down on speed in a straight line on Saturday, Andretti still did a time which would’ve been quicker than last year’s pole lap time to qualify in 9th position behind Keke Rosberg’s Fittipaldi and ahead of Patrese’s Arrows. After a race long battle with John Watson in the McLaren and Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari, Andretti brought 81/1 home in a very respectable 7th place, just 4 seconds shy of the Ferrari.

Austrian Grand Prix, Österreichring 17th of August

At the Austrian Grand Prix at Österreichring, Mario Andretti and 81/1 started in 17th position, behind Surer in the ATS and ahead of Patrese in the Arrows. After a good start he sadly had to retire on lap 6 due to an engine failure.

Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort 31th of August

At the Dutch Grand Prix in Zandvoort in overcast conditions, Mario Andretti qualified 81/1 in 10th position ahead of teammate Elio De Angelis and the Ferrari of Scheckter. When the lights went out, Andretti got past John Watson in the McLaren M29. By lap 20, after a battle with Villeneuve’s Ferrari and Reutemann’s Williams, Andretti found himself, once again chasing down Rene Arnoux for 4th place. Sadly a miscalculation in fuel meant he had to eventually settle for 8th.

Italian Grand Prix, Imola 14th of September

In the Italian Grand Prix at Imola, Mario Andretti qualified 81/1 in 10th position, ahead of Keke Rosberg in the Fittipaldi and behind Rebaque in the Brabham and Gilles Villeneuve in the Ferrari. By lap 6, he was up to 8th, and after a battle with J.P Jarrier he was running in a comfortable 5th position, hunting down Rene Arnoux’s Renault. However sadly his race was brought short on lap 39 with an engine failure.

Canadian Grand Prix, Montréal 28th of September

From Italy it was across the Atlantic for Andretti and 81/1 for the Canadian Grand Prix in Montréal. Starting in 18th position, the race saw a large pile-up at the first corner, resulting in damage to the front corner of 81/1. Andretti managed to make the restart, but sadly only completed 11 laps before the engine failed. We can not say for sure if he restarted in 81/1 or the spare car at this time.

1981 Formula 1 Season

Belgian Grand Prix, Zolder 17th of May


For the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder in 1981, 81/1 was driven by the second of its World Champions (or champion-to-be at that point), Nigel Mansell. Qualifying in 10th position, ahead of Keke Rosberg, Alain Prost, and teammate Elio De Angelis, Mansell made a lightening start.

On Lap 5 he passed Laffite in the Legier, and by lap 10 he had worked up to 7th. In a show of determination we would all soon become used to, Mansell’s charge did not stop there. By lap 20 he worked his way up to 3rd place and held that position to the flag, thus gaining him his first ever podium in Formula 1 in this car. Thankfully for all of us Formula 1 fans this was to be the first of many.

81/1 was then retained in Lotus’ possession for the next 35 years before it was purchased by the current owner directly from Classic Team Lotus in 2016. A well-known and highly accomplished driver on the historic racing scene, he was looking for a competitive ground effect Formula 1 car to take on the Monaco Historic Grand Prix and the popular Masters Historic Formula1 series.

Jumping at the opportunity to purchase such and original and important car directly from the Lotus family and team, he had Classic Team Lotus recommission 81/1 and run the car for him before handing the mantel on to Martin O’Connell and the team at OC Racing.

The ownership experience has not disappointed. 81/1 has displayed its competitiveness at two Monaco Historic Grand Prix events in 2018 and 2022 and has lead the field in numerous Masters Historic F1 races, including at Spa Francorchamps, Zandvoort, Dijon, Imola and as well as some of best tracks the UK has to offer.

In 2023 81/1 ventured down to Australia for Phillip Island and the support race at the Australian Grand Prix. The DFV engine is currently being rebuilt by TMAX and will be ready and fresh for the beginning of the busy 2024 season. With up to date FIA HTP papers, fuel tank and crack testing in date, a s well as a comprehensive spares package, this represents an exciting opportunity to be only the second private owner of this iconic DFV powered, ground effect, Lotus Formula 1.

With Masters recent merger with the UAE based global motorsport group GP Extreme and their flagship Gulf Classic and of course this year’s greatly anticipated Monaco Historic Grand Prix, surely there can’t be many more desirable, exciting and glamorous entries into these prestigious grids than a highly original Works Team Lotus DFV ground effect Formula 1. Particularly one that was piloted in period not only by one, but two of the greatest Formula 1 World Champions of all-time.