Race-car builder Lola’s last entry into the world of Formula 1 almost brought about the demise of the company. Backed by MasterCard, Lola was forced to launch its F1 program in 1997, fully a year before the team was ready.
The results were disastrous. The T97/30 chassis had zero hours of testing in a wind tunnel, and it was powered by an uncompetitive Ford Zetec V-8 engine. It’s first track test came at the 1997 Australian Grand Prix, where the car was no faster than Lola’s Formula 3000 cars.
MasterCard, who forced Lola onto the Grand Prix grid long before the team was ready, pulled its sponsorship, forcing the firm into bankruptcy.
Despite these lessons of the past, Lola is ready to give it another go, and is actively seeking to become the 13th team on the Formula 1 grid. Lola originally tried to get in in 2009 and again after the demise of the US F1 team in 2010, but was unsuccessful and didn’t renew its bid for the 2011 season.
As Lola’s managing director, Robin Brundle, explained to Autoweek, “We’re ready and waiting... if the FIA brings back the 13th license, we can bid for it.”
The timing may be right, since the Lola of today is a much different company than the Lola of 1997. While racing is still a key component of Lola’s business, it’s no longer the only segment Lola is active in.
Two-thirds of the company’s business now comes from industries such as defense and aviation, which gives Lola a much more stable footing than it’s enjoyed in the past. Formula 1 is now seen as a way to grow the company’s business, not just a way to spend its earnings.
Brundle says that Lola will hit a turnover of $40 million this year, with growth to $77 million within five years. A Formula 1 effort, on the other hand, could boost that by “tens of millions,” if Brundle’s projections are correct.
Even under a “best case” scenario, don’t expect to see a Lola team on the grid before 2014, when the FIA implements new engine regulations for F1 teams.