Former British racing driver, businesswoman and co-founder of Lotus Cars, Hazel Chapman, died earlier this week at the age of 94.
Born Hazel Williams in north London on May 21, 1927, she was instrumental in the founding of Lotus cars, and raced the company’s early models.
After growing up in the British capital, Hazel met Colin Chapman at a dance when she was 16. According to Lotus, the pair soon began their relationship and simultaneously started working on their first car together.
The car that would become the first ever Lotus, the Mark 1, was constructed by the pair in Hazel’s parents’ garage in Hornsey, London.
When Colin was briefly commissioned into the Royal Air Force (RAF), Hazel continued working on the Mark 1 without him. The car was a trials special car based on 1930 Austin 7 chassis.
After the Mark 1, Hazel also worked on the Mark 2 while Colin was still with the RAF.
As the duo developed their cars, both Hazel and Colin entered a number of races to showcase their creations. Both were successful, which brought about new commissions for their automotive services.
As the company grew, Hazel was key to the creation of the original Lotus business.
The company was formed 1 January 1952 in Crouch End, London. It then became a limited company later that year thanks to a £25 ($33) payment from Hazel.
A few years after the business got off the ground, Hazel and Colin married, and she was appointed to the board of a number of Lotus companies. This saw her play a key role at the head of Lotus Cars, Team Lotus and Lotus Components.
In her role with Team Lotus, Hazel reportedly prided herself on working with almost every one of the team’s Formula 1 drivers. During her time with the outfit, she worked alongside Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna.
While Hazel worked with Team Lotus, it claimed six world drivers’ championships and seven constructors’ crowns through the 1960s and ‘70s.
Hazel was a regular sight in the Formula 1 pit lane during this time, stopwatch in hand to keep an eye on the performance of her drivers. But her impact on global motorsport went much deeper than timing her drivers.
In fact, as well as racing herself in the early days of Lotus, Hazel was also instrumental in the creation of the Women’s Motor Racing Associates Club, which was called The Dog House at the time. At it outset, this organization provided support to the partners of Formula One drivers, especially those whose husbands or boyfriends were killed or injured in a race. To this day, the club still hosts regular events and fundraising activities to support causes around the world.
Following the death of her husband Colin in 1982, Hazel recognized that the company the pair had built required fresh investment if it was to survive. As such, she played an instrumental role in its sale the following year.
David Wickins, the founder of British Car Auctions, was appointed chairman in 1983, but the company’s Formula 1 team remained in family ownership until the end of the 1990 season.
Following the collapse of Team Lotus, Hazel became a Director of Classic Team Lotus, the Chapman family business that preserves the cars and the brand’s legacy.
In the years following her departure from Lotus Cars, Hazel has remained connected to the brand.
In 2018, she ‘signed off’ the 100,000th Lotus road car. The company also previously offered Hazel a sneak preview of any new car before it was unveiled to the public.
Matt Windle, managing director of Lotus Cars, said: “This is a very sad day for everyone around the world associated with Lotus. Without Hazel Chapman there would be no Lotus.
“The entire Hethel team, and those working at our facilities around the world, send their sincere condolences and best wishes to the Chapman family.”
Lotus described Hazel as “the rock upon which the Lotus foundations were built” and said that her involvement in the brand’s inception was “was almost without equal”.