A Grand Prix Rejects Author Redux – a second interview with Ibrar Malik

Hello Ibrar. You have already had one book published about the 1994 season, and I know that that book was a labour of love for you. Now you have written a second book, “Lotus: Beyond The Colin Chapman Era”, focusing on the 1982 to 1989 period of the original Team Lotus period.

How did you get involved with writing a second book?

Back in 2013 GP Rejects forum member Neil White stated he was writing a book covering Team Lotus’ final years of 1983 – 1994. Like most F1 fans, I was excited by this prospect because the reasons for Lotus’ decline had never fully been clear to me. I therefore offered to read Neil’s 1989 chapter to ascertain the reasons behind Lotus decline, as that was the time Lotus went from being podium finishers (in 1988) to non qualifiers (at Spa 1989). Since 2013 I gradually got more involved in helping Neil, and increasingly it became clear he did not have the time to finish this book off. Initially we were going to co-author this book together however a few months ago, Neil told me his other commitments needed to take priority so did not want to be carry on anymore. I would have preferred to carry on with Neil to ease that burden, but we parted amicably and I’m very proud of the end result. Not least because the contributors for this book include Frank Dernie, Peter Wright, Willem Toet and a few other F1 insiders.        

Considering that the team continued until the end of 1994 before closing, why does this book not cover the 1990 to 1994 period? An initial assumption would be because of the amount of ground to be covered would be too great. If so, could this be the focus of a third book from yourself?

Your initial assumption is spot on. Lotus’ decline was unusual: it was not a spectacular, swift or a sudden affair. Instead, it was a death by a 1000 cuts spanning years if not decades. Read any F1 forum on this subject and you’ll see many fans are not clear as to the detail behind those 1,000 cuts, or indeed how or why they came about. This book sheds light on them by guiding readers through all of Team Lotus’ races between 1983 (just after Colin Chapman’s death) to the end of the 1989 F1 Season (when Lotus were clearly struggling). There may be a follow up book investigating Lotus’ final years of 1990 – 1995 depending on how well this book does.

The Lotus 101 looked like a classic GP Reject and drove like one, looking at their 1989 results!

The Lotus 101 looked like a classic GP Reject and drove like one, looking at their 1989 results!

In our previous interview, you were able to give a small exclusive, giving a tale about the rejectful Pacific team at the 1994 Portuguese Grand Prix. Are you able to give any ‘sneak-peeks’ to any exclusives in this book (especially if it involves any reject drivers or teams, like Johnny Dumfries?)?

There are many exclusives within this book not least because Lotus’ decline has, in my opinion, been criminally under-reported. For instance Peter Wright exclusively discusses why Lotus did not continue with active suspension beyond 1987 and what his assessment of that year’s system was. Another exclusive is why hasn’t Lotus’ headquarters and location in far flung Norfolk (hours away from F1’s heartland of Oxfordshire) been questioned before? By way of a comparison, the Onyx team, operated out of a similarly unusual F1 factory to that of Lotus’ Ketteringham Hall base. Onyx’s & Lotus’ headquarters were both very expensive & restrictive in terms of their ability to house things like onsite wind tunnels etc which became essential for on-track success during the mid 1980s onwards.   

In 1989 the Onyx team had just been taken over by the eccentric Belgian millionaire, Jean-Pierre Van Rossem, the owner of Moneytron. After a difficult first year the flamboyant Van Rossem sold the team, after bemoaning about the cost of running it from such expensive premises. By July 1990 the team had finally moved out of it, but by then money was so tight for Monteverdi (the new name for Onyx), things like broken suspension parts were reported to have been welded together to save costs rather than replaced. Karl Foitek, father of Gregor Foitek, then withdrew his funding and barred his son from driving what he now considered was a death trap. Shortly before the 1990 Belgian Grand Prix the team was closed down, the victim of too many unpaid bills.   

Lotus’ base which was very different to typical F1 factories even back in the 1980s, let alone today. The book investigates whether that may have hurt Lotus’ on-track performances, because in Onyx’s case it seemed to do so. 

Interestingly Williams and McLaren both relocated to cheaper but more purpose built F1 bases during the mid 1980s to improve their on track performances. The latter team subsequently poached Lotus’ key asset in Senna for 1988 who was impressed by McLaren’s new purpose built headquarters. Those two teams happened to dominate the 1980s and 1990s. Whereas Lotus had started the 1980s as their equal, but chose not to follow their lead on this front and the reason why is interesting and discussed within the book. Instead Lotus remained within their grand but expensive headquarters (a bit like Onyx), up until their demise in 1995. So naturally, the book questions that decision using insights from Willem Toet (an F1 wind tunnel expert), and Frank Dernie (Lotus’ Technical Director in 1989).

Ketteringham Hall, headquarters of Team Lotus.

Ketteringham Hall, headquarters of Team Lotus. Even in the 1980s it seemed rather quaint for a F1 team!

I am aware that in 1989, Tyrrell and Lotus finished the season just a single point apart in fifth and sixth in the Constructors Championship, despite a massive difference in budget. How did this happen? Was the Judd engine to blame? (Williams used the Judd engine for one year in 1988 and finished 7th in the championship, yet won the title with Honda in 1986 and 1987, and finished second with Renault in 1989, suggesting that Judd may have been the weak link for Williams.)

The Judd engine was a factor, but not the only reason. Because in 1988 Williams still managed to beat Tyrrell in the constructor’s championship despite using the Judd’s unlike Lotus a year later. You’ll need to read the book to understand all of the reasons why and one of its contributors is Tyrrell’s Nigel Beresford, race engineer to Jonathan Palmer and Jean Alesi. Beresford helps readers understand this story well, because the process of Tyrrell eclipsing Lotus actually started back in 1987, and led to Tyrrell thrashing Lotus in 1990. In both 1989 and 1990, Tyrrell’s budget was a pittance in comparison to Lotus’ who enjoyed vast Camel sponsorship money. Making this story all the more interesting. Indeed, the book charts Tyrrell’s rise during the late 1980s as well as Lotus’ decline to see what lessons can be learnt.

I seem to recall reading on social media somewhere that you also cover Colin Chapman’s links with John DeLorean with regards to the DeLorean DMC-12, a car made famous by the Back To The Future trilogy of films of the 1980s (my personal favourite film trilogy of all time). Can you tell us much of this chapter of the book, and whether there was a connection between the DeLorean deal and the Lotus F1 team? Did the failure of the DMC-12 impact financially on the F1 team?

Again this is another major exclusive within the book, as it explores this very point. The DeLorean Motor Company collapsed in late 1982 and some of the £77 million of UK taxpayers money used to fund it went missing. Lotus were dragged into the subsequent investigations into those missing taxpayers millions (which could have been used to fund the NHS for instance). It proved to be one of the UK’s biggest tax scandals of the 1980s. Colin Chapman’s key finance man, Fred Bushell, remained in charge of Team Lotus’ finances until July 1989, when he was arrested over the DeLorean affair. In 1992 Bushell pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud. He was sentenced to three years in jail, fined £1.6m and ordered to pay costs of more than £800,000. Since this whole affair had been ongoing since the period the book covers (1983 – 1989), it therefore investigates to what extent this whole thing hung over Team Lotus and their readiness to invest within the team.

A flop and a Ponzi scheme rolled into one, the DeLorean is a cautionary automotive tale.

Somehow managing to be a Ponzi scheme and a flop in one go, the DeLorean debacle crippled Team Lotus, possibly fatally.

I understand that “Lotus: Beyond the Colin Chapman Era” is independently published. Why was the decision taken to go down this route? It is also available in various formats and at differing price points. Can you explain these different purchase options please? And where can we obtain these?

It was a conscious decision to self published this book because the subject matter is so controversial, because of the aforementioned exclusives on the DeLorean affair and the questioning’s of Lotus base etc. Quite honestly I did not want any editors to censor things. It’s also why I believe this subject matter has been criminally under-reported in the last 25 years since Team Lotus folded. The book is only available via Amazon at the moment.  A hard copy may follow in due course. 

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After publishing these two books, do you have plans for a third, fourth, or even fifth book? And what else might the future hold for you personally?

Whilst I do have the research, contacts and know-how to turn the follow up book (charting Team Lotus between 1990 – 1995) into a reality. the reality is I need a bit of a break before even looking into it. Writing is a book and dealing with the subsequent social media side of things is much tougher than one imagines so I need to think twice before putting myself through all of that again. In the meantime, I also need to find a job to pay the bills, so that is what I will be doing for the rest of 2020.

Thank you for your time again, Ibrar.