The Peculiar Lamborghini F1 story
Lamborghini, the celebrated Italian supercar manufacturer has declared 2 weeks ago, that it may consider a return to Formula 1 if the cost of participation is reduced from the current levels. While this can be dismissed as the usual F1 pre-season chatter when there’s little else to report in the specialist F1 press, there are a few reasons why the Lamborghini F1 return might be something of an actual consideration.
Formula 1 isn’t alien to Lamborghini; it has participated in the series earlier as well. In 1987, America’s Chrysler Corporation with a view to expanding Chrysler’s reach across the world bought the Italian supercar brand. The idea of going head-to-head with fellow Italian marque Ferrari was not lost on Chrysler’s management.
Since becoming a constructor in F1 was massively expensive, Lamborghini opted to become an engine supplier to the Larrousse team for the 1989 season. A company named Lamborghini Engineering was set up to oversee the Lamborghini F1 operation. Daniele Audetto, an ex-Ferrari man was brought in to run the company and a 3.5-Litre V12 engine was developed for the Larrousse team.
1990 British Grand Prix onboard Éric Bernard, Larrousse Lamborghini F1 V12
The Lamborghini Formula 1 performance in 1989 was not a threat to Ferrari even remotely, with the Larrouse team scoring best finishing position of 6th once in the season. The team did not qualify on several occasions that year. To explore further opportunities, the Lamborghini Formula 1 engine supply expanded to the legendary Team Lotus in 1990, and on-track results improved as Japanese driver Aguri Suzuki scored a podium for Larrousse at his home race. Larrousse scored points on 5 other occasions in the 1990 season which also saw the team finishing 6th in the constructor’s championship – a commendable effort for a 2-year-old engine manufacturer. Team Lotus though was in the shadow of their former championship winning selves, scoring points twice in the season as it came 8th in the constructor’s championship.
1990 also saw the initiation of an effort to build a Lamborghini F1 chassis by Lamborghini engineering. This effort was sharpened by the emergence of a Mexican businessman called Fernando Gonzalez Luna who set up a company named GLAS with the intention of raising funding to launch the Lamborghini factory F1 team. The project attracted funding and hired ex-Alfa Romeo and Dallara designer Mario Tolentino to design and build the chassis that would later be named the Lambo 291. Unfortunately, on the day of the car launch, Gonzalez Luna disappeared with $20 million of the project’s funds which effectively left the Team Lamborghini factory effort in tatters. Lamborghini engineering brought in a financier to replace Luna in the form of Italian businessman Carlo Patrucco and provided initial funding to start the team.
The operation under the leadership of Carlo relocated to Modena in Italy and the team was renamed ‘Modena Team SpA since Lamborghini were hesitant to lend their name to the team. The team signed Nico Larini and Eric Van de Poele for the 1991 season. The official FIA entry list for the 1991 season saw the Lamborghini Modena cars entered as Lambo 291 which caused confusion for fans. The team had a rather forgettable debut season with both cars failing to qualify/pre-qualify consistently and scored a best finishing position of 7th at the United States Grand Prix. It did not win any points that season.
The Lamborghini F1 V12 in the Lambo 291 sounded magnificent!
Lamborghini also supplied engines to the Ligier team in 1991 but this collaboration too did not yield any points. The Modena team folded up at the end of the 1991 season due to financial difficulties and Lamborghini too appeared reluctant to save the operation. By 1991, efforts for a new Lamborghini backed engine supply deal for McLaren was initiated. McLaren were without an engine partner for 1992 following Honda’s decision to end participation in F1. Since a marquee team was in the market for an engine deal, Lamborghini bolted their F1 engine onto a McLaren F1 car which was then tested. Unfortunately, Ron Dennis, the McLaren supremo opted for Peugeot engines for the next season which brought the shutters down on the Lamborghini F1 operation.
In 1992, Lamborghini F1 engines were supplied to the Larrousse and Minardi teams. Larrousse and Minardi -came 11th and 12th respectively that season. For 1993, which was the marque’s last year in F1, engines were supplied to Larrousse only with the team finishing 11th again.
Today, Lamborghini under the Volkswagen group is enjoying a period of high demand for its cars selling more than 2500 cars/year since 2014. Should it decide to enter F1, a fan can be assured of a more successful era than the last. F1 also needs another engine manufacturer and the Ferrari vs Lamborghini battle will see attention from fans and media alike. The only difference being, this time Ferrari is part owned by Chrysler!