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Team Lotus ‘Essex F1 sponsorship collapsed in financial scandal


Elio de Angelis drives the Essex Team Lotus Cosworth 88 with air suspension during practice for the 1981 US Grand Prix West.

Elio de Angelis drives the Essex Team Lotus Cosworth 88 with air suspension during practice for the 1981 US Grand Prix West.
image: Don Morley (beautiful pictures)

If you were imagining the perfect playboy of the late 1970s and early 1980s, chances are you would picture someone like David Thieme. Show up at any elaborate Team Lotus party during a Formula 1 weekend, and you’re sure to find Thieme standing in court wearing a goatee, black felt hat and square sunglasses. He and his company, Essex Foreign Petroleum Corporation, can’t seem to make good money and spend it on racing. And then he was arrested.

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Team Lotus is one of the most accomplished teams in Formula 1 history. Colin Chapman spent several years perfecting his groundbreaking road cars before entering the Grand Prix circuit for the first time. at Monaco in 1958, and the team’s first win came three years later at the 1961 United States Grand Prix. Of 489 starts spanning the decades, Lotus had 79 wins, seven championships. builder championships and six driver championships. The team owns legends like Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Pedro Rodriguez, Jochen Rindt and Mario Andretti.

This is also the same group that effectively invented modern sponsorship as we know it, with Colin Chapman accepting Gold Leaf Tobacco money in exchange for painting his cars in the brand’s colors. It’s an important departure from the past, where cars were painted a specific color to represent a country. It allows teams to operate on larger budgets – but it also creates the potential for funding to come from where it matters.

One of those places is the Essex Foreign Petroleum Corporation, owned by American designer David Thieme.

David Thieme at the track.

David Thieme at the track.
image: Keystone/Hulton Archives (beautiful pictures)

Thieme made his first fortune from his own design firm when he took ownership of the oil trading company Essex Overseas Petroleum Corporation. Essentially, Thieme took advantage of the political turmoil in the Middle East by buying oil when demand was low and selling it at a premium when countries started fighting. In 1977, he even earned some extra money from Credit Suisse to make bigger deals and thereby earn more.

As part of an oil company, Thieme was involved in the development of a number of cars and jets, which gave him an introduction to the world of racing. With former racing driver turned expert sponsor François Mazet, Thieme forged a friendship with the legendary Colin Chapman in the late 1970s. In late April 1979, the Essex logo adorned his cars. Team Lotus – and Thieme were so inspired that he also sponsored the entry of the Porsche factory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

What started as a sponsorship quickly became more. Are from Colin Chapman Museum:

In December 1979, he debuted Essex Team Lotus at the Paradis du Latin pub in Paris, with dancers dressed in feathers and an Essex Lotus from the roof, with Mario Andretti, wearing a nightgown, go down with it. In 1980, Thieme received Team Lotus title sponsorship, with flashy new red, blue and silver colors for Andretti, Elio de Angelis and later Nigel Mansell. Everything Thieme has done has been lavish, with its 1981 premiere at the Royal Albert Hall, with 900 guests and his double-decker hospitality bus parked outside with Thieme’s helicopter (all in all). Essex color, of course) on the head. Ray Charles and Barbara Dickson sang for guests (including Margaret Thatcher) and an Essex-produced Lotus Esprit was critically acclaimed and Dom Perignon got drunk. The 1981 season proved to be difficult with the Lotus 88 twin causing controversy when it was introduced in Long Beach.

Thieme doesn’t mind spending any money. Journalist Maurice Hamilton remember Thieme had hired Michelin-starred chef Roger Vergé to cook for Lotus in the team’s own home, and heard rumors that Thieme had chartered her own 747 to fly enough confetti for a party to create an impression. feels like the location is on the French Riviera.

While few people turn down a party, Thieme’s money also helps cover the big expenses that come with building a new car – in this case the legendary Lotus 88.

This particular vehicle is made entirely of carbon fiber and introduces groundbreaking “twin chassis” technology. After the FIA ​​banned movable skirts, which teams used to generate greater downforce in the age of ground effects, some teams began looking to break the rules with air suspension. Essentially, when stationary, those cars seem to comply with ride-height regulations – but help keep them moving in the right direction, and the suspension allows the car to suck right down to the ground. It’s not comfortable for the driver, but the speed it generates is great.

Together with designers Peter Wright and Tony Rudd, Chapman converted the former Lotus 86 into a Lotus 88, which had two frames, one inside the other. The inner frame houses the driver’s cockpit and is deployed independently, so the driver will not feel the cushioning effects of ground impacts. That means the outer chassis can completely remove its wings, as it has essentially become a massive ground effects system that generates a large amount of downforce.

The FIA ​​was quick to ban cars, which Chapman argued was perfectly legal – but that wasn’t the only problem that occurred in 1981.

On April 14, 1981, UPI reported that Thieme was arrested upon arrival at Kloten airport in Zurich, Switzerland on charges of fraud. According to Credit Suisse, he fraudulently appropriated $7.6 million in bank funds, resulting in many of Thieme’s belongings being seized. After serving two weeks in prison, he was released on $150,000 bail thanks to Saudi businessman and Williams sponsor Mansour Ojjeh and then disappeared. With him, he overthrew the Essex empire.

Thieme joined Team Lotus shortly after the team won the Constructors’ Championship in 1978, and he was rewarded with several podiums during his time as team sponsor – but his ever-evolving technology The early 1980s left the team without a string of retirement days and only a handful of shots during Thieme’s tenure. However, the victory doesn’t seem to mean more to Thieme than the act of being seen to flaunt his wealth at the racetrack.

The arrest also coincided with the banning of Lotus 88. In News TuscaloosaChapman responded to a question about whether he would pull out of the race, “I have to. Now I don’t have any cars and I don’t know about my endowment”.

The team finished the year with seventh place overall in the 1981 Constructors’ Championship.

,, Colin Chapman ,, and, David Thieme ,, (Brazil GP1980) Can someone give more love to the races

Lotus didn’t rush right after Thieme was captured; Instead, Colin Chapman’s death in 1982 before a tumultuous period was finally resolved when the team hired a bunch of new visionaries to design its cars. By 1984, Lotus was regularly performing well, and with Ayrton Senna as part of the team, the squad had won seven in three years from 1985 to the end of the 1987 season.

Unfortunately for the team, however, Lotus began to decline shortly thereafter, and as the 1990s began, sightings of a Lotus machine in spots was a rare sight. Its final score was scored at the 1993 Belgian Grand Prix, and by the end of the year, finances were so tight that there was no longer enough money to develop a new machine for 1994. The team struggled with the machine. old hook. until the fifth race of the season, but soon after, Lotus applied for a Management Order to protect it from creditors.

Before the end of that year, the team was sold outright to David Hunt, brother of 1976 world champion James Hunt, but development on the car stopped at the start of the 1995 season. Lotus was the Australian Grand Prix in 1994.

Was the team’s decline directly caused by David Thieme? It would be difficult to come up with a convincing argument in that regard. Instead, however, Thieme’s dismissal from financial favor likely contributed to Lotus’ eventual dissolution, as it was one of a series of unrelated events that took place in the early 1980s. finally changed the course of Lotus. Without Thieme’s presence, anyway, Lotus most likely would have folded. But as we’ve seen time and time again, the fact that a team falls victim to a nimble money-eater is just a black spot in that team’s history.

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