Lotus Snowplows

My love for motorsports historically has included at least a topical knowledge of the technology embodied by the machines on the track: engine size, chassis packages, mechanical output, that sort of thing. Details like these are what define the "formula" in my favorite motorsport of all: Formula One.

Until I switched allegiance to Prost's and Senna's Mclaren/Hondas in the early '90s, Lotus built my favorite car and team. What fan can deny the allure of Mario Andretti's Lotus 77?

I was excited by the prospect of Lotus' return to F1 in 2010. The formula of my youth was dipped in British Racing Green—Jimmy Clark's cigar-shaped Lotus, to be exact, which did battle with my hero Jackie Stewart's BRG Cosworth on the public slotcar tracks I haunted in the early '70s.

It is not mere coincidence that my interest in F1 tech began to shrink the same year F1 cars' silly silhouettes began to grow. The appendages were small and hardly noticeable at first—I wing here, a duct there—but when Lotus pulled the sheet off this monstrosity, my disdain for modern aerodynamics was complete:

The 2010 Lotus and every other wind-tunnel tested scythe on the F1 grid looks more like an intergalactic snowplow than a racecar. The slicks are a welcome site after a dozen years of ribbed rubber, but the rest of the crap lurking beneath Lotus's famed green and yellow paint reminds me of a John Deere tractor. The quest for slickness in the straights and downforce in the twisties is a basic racing premise I fully comprehend, but modern aero packages have taken this tech challenge from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Sadly, these technical innovations have done nothing to improve the quality of racing. Passing in F1 has all but disappeared, and the battles that used to occur on the racetrack are now happening during fuel stops. If I was dating my cousin, I'd probably take her to a NASCAR race.

Thank god for the return of Michael Schumacher…


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