There are several rumours in the F1 press, that in 2013 turbine engines may be allowed in F1. This is not new, as it has been done before, by guess who? Yes, the man himself, the late Colin Chapman.
It was designed in 1970 and was inspired by the 1967 STP Granatelli Indy 500 turbine car. It was actually raced for the first time in 1971. I was fortuanate enough to see this car in action at the 1971 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch.Very strange indeed. I love the sound of any racing engine on full song, as I am sure most F1 enthusiats do.
I am also a lover of classical music, but the turbine sounds like The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, while the others sound like the Honky Tonk paino. The car produced none of the usual sounds. No screaming exhaust. No revs rising and subsequent gear changes. But you could hear the tyres, squealing faintly under protest.
When introduced into F1 in 1971, the Lotus 56 had been presented by Maurice Philippe in 1968 to compete in the Indianapolis 500. With its innovative turbine drive, instead of a normal reciprocating piston engine, F1 designer Colin Chapman saw the potential of such a car and let the project run slowly for two years. However in 1970, Chapman got in contact with Pratt & Whitney who could provide a turbine to meet the regulations of Formula One. The result is the Lotus 56B that was determined to run in the 1971 Formula One season.
The new turbine driven car had several important differences compared to traditional power. Most importantly, the turbine had about 600hp compared to 425hp of the traditional engines. Furthermore, the drive train was simpler as the car did not need a gearbox or clutch to get all the power to the wheels. A turbine engine is also smaller and lighter than a regular piston engine,and has less moving parts.
Rather than radiator openings in the sidepods, the car featured a chimney behind the driver's head to evacuate the hot gases from the turbine engine. As the turbine engine was very thirsty, the extra space in the sidepods was all used up by large fuel tanks that could hold up to 280 liters of kerosene.
Additionally, the lack of engine brake meant the drivers had to rely solely on the regular brakes. The car was therefore equipped with larger and heavier inboard brakes while the drivers had to get used to left foot braking, a little known technique at the time.This problem today would be solved by using carbon brakes.
The turbine concept nearly proved good enough for a GP win when in the flooded circuit of Zandvoort Australian Dave Walker moved up during the race from a back row starting position. He occupied the tenth position after five returns and made returns faster than the leaders Jacky Ickx and Pedro Rodriguez. Convinced of the possible victory, Chapman was left disappointed after Walker slid off the circuit and had to retire.
Although originally raced in Gold Leaf livery, its last outing was in the gold/black livery of World Wide Racing in which the sole version ever built still exists.
Based on the STP Granatelli turbine car ("Silent Sam") that almost won in 1967, Chapman’s team again produced an even more innovative design. The 56 was shaped like a wedge on wheels, in the same vein as the later Lotus 72 which was also designed by Philippe and Chapman. The engine of the 56 was also noteworthy, as it was a Pratt &Whitney gas turbine engine of over 500 bhp (370 kW) and 1560 nm (1150.44 lb/ft) . To get the best out of the power produced, the 56 was fitted with four wheel drive something also used on the Lotus 63 without success.
Chapman developed the car as a potential F1 machine after the failure of the Lotus 63, but while the car was promising, it was too heavy and too overcomplicated for F1. The car was designated as the 56B and Emerson Fittipaldi drove it in the 1971 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch during wet practice, the 56 was far and away the fastest car on the track, but the race was held in dry weather and the car was lost in midfield. Dave Walker drove the car in the Dutch GP and had progressed from 22nd to 10th in five laps of the very wet track, before sliding off the road and into retirement.
Fittipaldi used the car again in that year's Italian GP and managed to bring the fragile design home 8th. By then Chapman decided to cut his losses and abandoned the 56, the four wheel drive concept and the gas turbine engine to concentrate on the Lotus 72 (heir to the 56's wedge and 49's wings),] which went on to win the drivers' and constructors' championships for Lotus in 1972.