Martin Donnelly gets back in a Lotus 102

Goodwood Festival of Speed

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Martin Donnelly, Lotus 102, Goodwood Festival of Speed, 2011

One of the most shocking scenes in the film Senna is Martin Donnelly’s horrific crash at Jerez in 1990.

The camera pans up on a twisted figure of a driver lying in the middle of the circuit, still strapped into his racing seat.

Donnelly got back behind the wheel of the car he began and ended his F1 career in for the first time at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

The Lotus 102

The 102 was one of the last F1 cars produced by the original Lotus team, and the last which ran in the bright yellow of cigarette brand Camel.

It was heavily based on the 101 used in 1989, with most of the changes to the design made to accommodate the taller driver pairing of Donnelly and Derek Warwick, and the new Lamborghini V12 engine.

Donnelly and Warwick sat high in the car and, by the standards of modern Formula 1 cars, looked extremely vulnerable.

The chassis lacked grip and, all too often, the engine wanted for oil, displaying a voracious thirst for lubricant.

Despite the problems with the car and the untimely end it brought to his F1 career, Donnelly remembered it with some fondness.

Speaking before the Festival he said: “It’s a bit like an old girlfriend, you fall out with it 20 years ago and it keeps coming back to bother you.

“It was unlike anything I’d driven before. The first test at Silverstone the acceleration and cornering was mind-blowing. With each lap you had to speed up your mind to what the car was doing.

“Every time around I thought I can go quicker here. That was the biggest adjustment, getting in tune with the speed of the car.

“It was an era where the financial divide between the teams was growing. Really you needed an Adrian Newey and lots of budget to compete.

“That said, at Lotus we made the best of what we had received from Camel and I think put together a very tidy car.”

Donnelly’s best result with the car came at the Hungaroring, two places behind Warwick in seventh, which at the time was worth no points instead of six, as today.

The Jerez crash

Martin Donnelly, Lotus 102, Goodwood Festival of Speed, 2011

There were eight minutes left in the first practice session at Jerez when Donnelly’s car speared off the track in the sixth-gear right-hander behind the pits.

A failure in the front suspension was suspected to be the cause, but the extensive damage to the car made it difficult to be certain.

Donnelly was gravely injured and was kept in a coma for weeks. He suffered multiple broken bones and head injuries – the force of the impact cracked his crash helmet.

After a long convalescence he eventually returned to racing, though he never raced in Formula 1 again.

Donnelly got back behind the wheel of a Lotus 102, similar to the the one he crashed, at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Read more about the crash here:

Lotus 102 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed

Goodwood Festival of Speed

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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19 comments on “Martin Donnelly gets back in a Lotus 102”

  1. Man, those early 90’s cars looked absolutely beautiful

    1. I agree. The majority of my favourite F1 cars are from this era.

      1. I wish the teams were forced to make the cars like this. If they somehow could make the rules in such a way that the wings had to be a single flat element. The racing would also be so much better as you would think with all the crazy wings banned, there would be less down force. I think this was the best looking F1 car shape.

        1. Its a bit sad to think we will never get to see and hear these F1 V12’s race again.

        2. That is the case for the central part of the front wing.

          1. Keith could they go the next step further and make the ruling for the entire wing?

  2. I’m really liking this series of articles on cars on display at the Goodwood Festival. Keep up the good work.

    1. MuzzleFlash
      2nd July 2011, 15:18

      Likewise, seeing all these old cars reminds me why I fell in love with the sport initially, I feel like an excitable child again, instead of some boring old git pondering the tiniest technical details of these things.

  3. They did a birds-eye view of this car at the start on friday, the cockpit looks unbelievably cramped.

  4. I saw only the aftermath of the crash on YouTube, and it looks very serious indeed.

  5. Great articles. Close up pictures of exhaust manifolds give me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside… Nice!

  6. Fantastic work, Keith. Keep it up.

  7. Michael Griffin
    2nd July 2011, 20:01

    He suffered multiple broken bones and head injuries – the force of the impact cracked his crash helmet.

    Holy hell. Never knew it cracked his helmet. It is a true miracle the man survived.

  8. What track did he crash on career ending

    1. Says it first paragraph, Jerez (Spain).

    2. its in the article:

      There were eight minutes left in the first practice session at Jerez when Donnelly’s car speared off the track in the sixth-gear right-hander behind the pits.

  9. Simon Benedict
    4th July 2011, 18:45

    Your story is inaccurate.

    Martin Donnelly started his Grand Prix career in the the Arrows A11 at the 1989 French Grand Prix.

  10. I am a big fan of motor racing (not only F1) since 2000, but I can’t let this question out of my mind – is racing worth giving your life for? Inspite of being a wannabe racing driver, I think not. There are people dying of hunger, in war, from terminal illnesses, but dying just to fulfill your passion of going fast…? I know it’s a God-given talent and skill to drive fast, I know it is like a job, a sport requiring discipline and training. But I, who used to criticize people asking questions like this, can’t get this thought out of my mind.

    I remember Henry Surtees losing his life, and Shoya Tomizawa dying in a Moto 2 race in 2010 – all young, vibrant souls who had so much to achieve in life. I think about how their parents and friends would feel.

    But if I shouldn’t ask questions like this FIA should impress with its safety strides. OK it is far better than how it used to be, but the authorities are getting complacent again. Martin Donnelly’s near death crash and the Ratezenberger and Senna crashes at 1994 proved that there was complacency from the people concerned about safety. Any fool looking at the Lotus and Williams of Donnelly and Senna realizes how low the cockpit sides are. But why didn’t the FIA see it that time?

    Even now Felipe Massa’s Hungaroring crash in 2009 and the various crashes at Monaco in 2011 prove that we are not in the safe zone yet. As long as the head remains exposed and cockpits not radically altered there is still the threat of a fatality. One may say it is a 1 in million chance, but is human life only worth that much?

    Strange that inspite of the engine and chassis announced for 2013 and 2014, there has been no stress on radically improving cockpit safety .

    We are waiting for something to happen and then we write glowing tributes about the driver.

  11. Really such a disturbing crash to witness and see him lying there, lifeless. Great to see him in the car and I was happy to hear at the time that he would venture back in the car again. Can’t have been easy.

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