The Big Car Database

Lotus 81 1980–1981

Lotus 81
Category Formula One
Constructor Lotus
Predecessor 80
Successor 86 / 87 / 88
Technical specifications
Chassis Aluminium monocoque
Suspension (front) Double wishbones, coil springs over dampers, anti-roll bar
Suspension (rear) Double wishbones, coil springs over dampers, anti-roll bar
Length 4,623 mm (182.0 in)
Width 2,134 mm (84.0 in)
Height 965 mm (38.0 in)
Axle track Front: 1,700 mm (67 in)
Rear: 1,638 mm (64.5 in)
Wheelbase 2,789 mm (109.8 in)
Engine Ford Cosworth DFV, 2,993 cc (182.6 cu in), 90° V8, NA, mid-engine, longitudinally mounted
Transmission Hewland FGA 400 5-speed manual
Weight 580 kg (1,280 lb)
Fuel Essex
Tyres Goodyear (1980)
Michelin (1981)
Competition history
Notable entrants Team Essex Lotus
Notable drivers United States Mario Andretti
Italy Elio de Angelis
United Kingdom Nigel Mansell
Debut 1980 Argentine Grand Prix
Races Wins Podiums Poles F.Laps
18 0 2 0 0
Constructors' Championships 0
Drivers' Championships 0
n.b. Unless otherwise stated, all data refer to
Formula One World Championship Grands Prix only.

The Lotus 81 was a Formula One racing car built by Colin Chapman's Lotus team for the 1980 Formula One season.

Unlike many of its illustrious Lotus forebears the 81 was not a terribly innovative or competitive car, coming as it did at a time when Chapman's interest in his racing activities was waning

Instead it was a very standard ground effect design with sliding skirts and the ubiquitous Cosworth DFV 3.0 litre V8 powerplant. The car was said to generate a great deal of downforce but have excessive pitch sensitivity problems, ultimately leading Chapman to develop the innovative twin-chassis Lotus 88.

Mario Andretti and Elio de Angelis used the 81 in all 14 rounds of the 1980 Formula One world championship, and the car also gave Nigel Mansell his Formula One debut, with the British driver lining up in a total of three races that season. The best result for the car was Elio de Angelis's 2nd place in Brazil.

Chapman had intended to use the Lotus 88 for the 1981 season,[citation needed] but a massive furore over the legality of the new car meant that the 81 was kept on as a stop gap for the first four races Lotus competed in, as they boycotted the 1981 San Marino Grand Prix, with Mansell taking 3rd place in the Belgian Grand Prix and de Angelis claiming three points finishes. The car was replaced by the Lotus 87.

The Lotus 81 at Barber.
Lotus 81 engine and transmission

Complete Formula One results


Year Entrant Chassis Engine Tyres Drivers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Points WCC
1980 Team Essex Lotus 81 Ford Cosworth DFV G   ARG BRA RSA USW BEL MON FRA GBR GER AUT NED ITA CAN USA   14 5th
Mario Andretti Ret Ret 12 Ret Ret 7 Ret Ret 7 Ret 8 Ret Ret 6  
Elio de Angelis Ret 2 Ret Ret 10 9 Ret Ret 16 6 Ret 4 10 4  
81B Nigel Mansell                   Ret Ret DNQ      
1981 Team Essex Lotus 81B Ford Cosworth DFV M   USW BRA ARG SMR BEL MON ESP FRA GBR GER AUT NED ITA CAN CPL 22* 7th
Nigel Mansell Ret 11 Ret   3                    
Elio de Angelis Ret 5 6   5                    

* Of those, 9 points were scored with the 81 model.