Only Ferrari, McLaren and Williams have taken part in more F1 races than Lotus, a name absent from the top level of motorsport since the 1990s until its return this year.

Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen will line up on the grid at Valencia today to start the marque’s 500th F1 Grand Prix in a career which began more than half a century ago.

The first Lotus Grands Prix

Lotus first competed in a Formula 1 race in April 1958, but that was the non-championship Glover Trophy at Goodwood and the car was a 1.5-litre Formula 2 Lotus 12 which was allowed to enter to make up the numbers in a small field.

The first time Lotus raced in a World Championship Grand Prix was at Monaco in May 1958. Cliff Allison finished sixth, 13 laps behind the winning Cooper of Maurice Trintingnant. Graham Hill, in the second Lotus 12, retired with engine trouble.

Team Lotus entered eight more GPs that year, the best result coming at Spa in June when Allison finished fourth behind two Vanwalls and a Ferrari.

lotus12-johnchapman-524

Lotus 12, the first type to appear in F1 races. Behind it is its successor, the Type 16. Photographed at the Donington museum by John Chapman.

The first Lotus wins

The first Lotus win in a Formula 1 race was at the non-championship Glover Trophy at Goodwood in 1960, where Innes Ireland beat Stirling Moss in a Cooper. Ireland was driving a Lotus 18, Colin Chapman's new rear-engined car.

The first Grand Prix win came a month later at Monaco, when Stirling Moss beat Bruce McLaren's Cooper and Phil Hill's Ferrari in a Lotus 18 run by Rob Walker. Moss won again in the US GP at Riverside later that year, and returned to Monaco in 1961 with a new Lotus 18 to win for the second year running - the famous occasion when he was chased by two Ferraris for almost the entire race.

The first World Championship win for the works Lotus team came in the US GP at Watkins Glen in October 1961, when Innes Ireland's new Lotus 21 beat Dan Gurney's Porsche by five seconds.

The first World Championship

Lotus won its first World Championship titles in 1963, when Jim Clark won a record seven Grands Prix, taking the drivers championship by a considerable margin and single-handedly winning the constructors title for Lotus.

Clark narrowly missed winning the 1964 title, but was back at the front in 1965.

Lotus25-524

Jim Clark used the Lotus 25 with its innovative construction and 'lay down' driving position to win his first world title in 1963.

The F1/Indy double

Clark won the 1965 drivers championship with six wins - in fact winning every race the Lotus 33 finished.

That same year he returned to Indianapolis where he had been robbed of the race win in 1963 (by politics) and 1964 (by tyre failure). In 1965 there was no mistake, winning the '500' at a record 150mph average.

1965indy-clark-524

Jim Clark brings his Lotus 38 into Victory Lane at Indianapolis, 1965, and is greeted with the obligatory bottle of milk - and a vast trophy. Clark won the Indy 500 and the F1 World Championship that year.

The DFV years

The Ford Cosworth DFV, which would become the most successful engine in the history of Formula 1, was created for the Lotus team and at first was exclusive to them. Lotus won 47 Grand Prix races with DFV power between 1967 - when the DFV-engined Lotus 49 won first time out at Zandvoort - and  1982.

1967chapman-lotus49-524

A grinning Colin Chapman gives his brand new DFV-powered Lotus 49 a blast down the runway at Hethel in 1967.

The first to 50 GP wins

Though Ferrari's F1 career began year before Lotus got into Grand Prix racing, it was Lotus which reached the milestone of 50 Grand Prix wins first - at the Spanish Grand Prix in 1973, which Emerson Fittipaldi won in a Lotus 72.

The 72 had a remarkable career: introduced in 1970 it won world titles for Jochen Rindt (1970) and Emerson Fittipaldi (1972) and was still winning races in Ronnie Peterson's hands as late as 1974.

Lotus72R1-524

Lotus 72, in 'Gold Leaf' colours: a remarkable car, with a winning F1 career spanning no less than five seasons.

The ground effect era

Lotus pioneered the use of sidepods with an internal wing profile on the Type 78, introduced in 1977. The extra downforce gave the 78 phenomenal grip, driver Mario Andretti saying it felt like it was 'painted to the road'.

But the real breakthrough came during wind tunnel testing for the 78, when the team discovered that better downforce with lower drag could be had using 'ground effect' - the bottom of the sidepod and the road surface formed a venturi, which generated low pressure and sucked the car down onto the road. Lotus developed a new car - the Type 79 - to make the most of this effect, and it won the world championship in 1978 in Mario Andretti's hands.

1977Lotus78-Andretti-524

Lotus 78, the 'wing car' at Long Beach in 1977. Andretti is being chased by the Elf Tyrrell of Ronnie Peterson, who would be his team mate at Lotus in 1978.

1978lotus78-andretti-524

Andretti in the Lotus 79, the first purpose-built 'ground effect' F1 car, in which he won the drivers championship in 1978.

The lone victory

After the 1978 championship year, Lotus struggled to make its next innovative new ground effect car, the Type 80, work well against cars which refined the basic concept of the Lotus 79. The team's fortunes went from bad to worse, and it would be more than three years before Lotus would again win a Grand Prix.

That unexpected victory - the 150th for the Cosworth DFV engine, and the last Colin Chapman would see - came at the Austrian GP in 1982. It was one of the closest finishes in F1 history: Elio de Angelis in a Lotus 91 won by just 0.05 seconds from a charging Keke Rosberg in a Williams FW08.

1982austrianGP-524

Close finish: de Angelis (Lotus 91, right) wins by a nosecone from Keke Rosberg (Williams FW08, left) at the Osterreichring in 1982.

The Senna years

Team Lotus hired rising star Ayrton Senna for the 1985 season, and Senna proved his potential by winning in pouring rain at Estoril a minute clear of Michele Alboreto's Ferrari.

Senna won again at Spa, then at Spain and Detroit in 1986, and at Monaco and Detroit in 1987 before moving to McLaren. They were to be the last Grand Prix wins for Team Lotus.

lotus99t-524

Lotus 99T: Ayrton Senna won twice in 1987 with the Honda-powered car, but they would be the last wins for Team Lotus.

The end of Team Lotus - the beginning of Lotus Racing

Team Lotus replaced the departing Ayrton Senna with no less a driver than reigning World Champion Nelson Piquet, but a handful of third place finishes were the best results. Lotus gradually slipped down the grid, and struggled to find sponsorship. The end came in 1994 when receivers were called in.

Lotus Racing is a new team which only hit the tracks for the first time in 2010, but it has proved itself as the best of F1's newcomers and is closing the gap on the established teams. How long before Lotus becomes a force in F1 all over again?