Formula 1 history is full of winners and champions. And if you know a little bit about motorsports, there is a chance that you know the names of Ferrari, Michael Schumacher, McLaren, Sebastian Vettel, and Lewis Hamilton. But do you know what are the worst cars and the “not so great” drivers who ever raced? Meet the Lola T97/30, one of the worst cars that ever raced in Formula 1.
Dreams of an F1 Title
If the Lola T97/30 had a nemesis, it would be the word “Performance”. To say the Lola T97/30 was everything but competitive would be an understatement.
The car was representing the hopes and dreams of the Mastercard Lola F1 Team for the 1997 F1 season. At the time of its launching, on February 20, 1997, Team founder Eric Broadley was even quite hopeful:
"“We have the experience, the commitment and the desire to succeed in F1. (…) We have taken the best ideas from specialists in the wind tunnel, aerodynamics, vehicle dynamics and the like to produce the final machine.”"
In 1997, Mastercard joined Steward Grand Prix as the two new teams scheduled to compete in the 1997 F1 Season. Spoiler alert: the latter had a longer lifespan than the first one.
At the time, according to a few media outlets, Mastercard Lola F1 Team was even aiming for an F1 title within four years! Yes, the payment-processing company Mastercard wanted to compete seriously against Ferrari, Williams, and McLaren.
The story says the American company was so impatient to race that they put pressure on the whole team to compete one year earlier than what was scheduled.
This resulted in one of the worst cars to have ever raced in F1. Poor design (the car was one of the early examples of creation by Computer-Aided Designed), lack of pace by the drivers, and an engine dating from 1996 – the same one that was put in the 1996 Forti F1 car (for the record, they finished 3 races out of 11) – shattered all the dreams of the Lola Mastercard Team.
At the inaugural race of the 1997 season in Melbourne, Lola showcased their new cars. With orange, red, white, and blue on its chassis, the car was very noticeable. Good thing for the sponsors…
The two drivers representing the team in Australia were the Italian Vincenzo Sospiri and Ricardo Rosset from Brazil. With the driving experience being extremely difficult due to the odd behavior of the car, both drivers had a hard time finding race pace. I wasn’t in Melbourne on that day of March 1997, but surely, this Formula 1 car might have been slower than the Safety car.
Excluded because of the 107% rule
During the qualifying session, Vincenzo Sospiri was off the pace set by Jacques Villeneuve, the pole sitter, by 11 seconds. Rosset was too by 13 seconds. If this is arguably awkward, the worse is to come. Why? Because of the so-called 107% rule.
This regulation was preventing drivers that were too slow to compete and potentially be dangerous to other competitors. A driver who failed to set a lap within 107 percent of the fastest time in the qualifying session was not allowed to race, without permission from the race stewards.
It’s with no surprise that both Lola cars were rejected and did not participate in the race. But they did not give up and flew to Brazil for the second round of the Championship. Sadly, the team learned there that Mastercard withdrew from Formula 1. The adventure of the Mastercard Lola F1 Team was over.
It is still possible, though, to find recent pictures of the different chassis of their cars nowadays. Four of them are known to exist, one was even sold at an auction. The story, unfortunately, doesn’t say if the winning bidder used a MasterCard.