Book Review — The Art of the Formula 1 Race Car

Often described as the pinnacle of motorsport, the Formula 1 world championship provides an extraordinary level of technology.  The races used to be very exciting as well, but modern aerodynamics and technical circuits have made passing a thing of the past.  Still, on occasion, and usually at an old European track, the races show some of their old brilliance.

F1 History

In The Art of the Formula One Race Car, a history of the sport is portrayed through stunning photographs of several famous or significant Grand Prix cars from every era of racing.

The book features everything from the pioneering and dominating Alfa Romeos to the recent McLaren ride of 2008 World Champion Lewis Hamilton. Written by Formula 1 journalist Stuart Codling, this book provides an interesting history of each car and the races in which it participated.

Commentary on the cars is provided by the great designer Gordan Murray, whose Championship winning McLaren MP4/4 is detailed in the book.  Murray also provides some very interesting insight about the competition.  Former Speed channel pit reporter Peter Windsor gives the forward, which would be a lot better had he not tried to form US F1, the ill-conceived Charlotte-based Formula 1 team that never ran a race.

The cars featured are not necessarily the greatest cars of all time.  Instead, the book presents cars with engineering significance or fascinating histories. That’s not to say that these cars didn’t win a lot of races, as the McLaren MP4/4 won 15 of 16 races in 1988.  The Leyton House car never won a single race, but is significant for its near upset of the Ferrari powerhouse in the nineties.

Motorsport Stars

Interestingly, the cars of the early Grand Prixs were not built for show or beauty, but represent some of the best looking machines ever built. The book shows the progression of Formula 1’s power balance.  In the early days, several Italian makes dominated, including Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Maserati.  The British themselves became successful later on with Lotus, Williams and McLaren.  Ferrari found success in several eras, including the hugely successful run with Michael Schumacher.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the book is the progression it shows. The Alfa Romeo 157, built before World War II, looks absolutely nothing like the 2008 McLaren, and not much like a ’72 Lotus either. The photography is wonderful, with the each car shot against a black background with perfectly even lighting.  The plain background intensifies the color and curvature of the cars, making for a spectacular image. The cars are detailed from several angles and a few have bodywork removed in key areas to show engines and other parts.  The carbureted V-12 engine of a Ferrari 513 exemplifies the beauty of the cars and its components.

The photography highlights several of the odd cars of Formula 1.  The legendary Tyrell P34’s six wheels show an era when mechanical, not aerodynamic innovation won races.  Unfortunately, the P34 didn’t win very many races, but that’s not the point of the book.  As the title suggests, the visuals are the focus anyway.

6-Wheeled Wonder

The six wheels of the P34 give the striking image of eccentric and creative engineering. Gordon Murray’s commentary explains the changes that occurred in Formula 1 that now discourages innovation in engineering.  This resulted in Murray leaving Formula 1 to work on a road car; none other than the legendary McLaren F1.  While Adrian Newey’s aerodynamic genius dominates the current generation, the FIA’s restrictions limit the designs of current cars.

The Mercedes W196 looks more like a sports car for Le Mans than a Formula 1 car, but this helps illustrate the aerodynamic transitions.  The Lancia D50 includes odd looking side pods to enhance aerodynamics.  The first cars with actual wings, including the Lotus 49B, had the tendency for the wings to break off and hurt people.  The evolution of wings and ground effects makes for the most interesting and obvious changes in the sport and cars.  While the first wings were simply fins sprouting from the front and rear of a car, they evolved into the wedge shaped, thick wings of the 1970s.

Though thoroughly modern at the time, the cars of the 1980s and 1990s seem simple compared to the 2008 McLaren.  While the late 20th century cars provided wings and many aerodynamic developments, the complex curves and angles of Hamilton’s ride show a mind boggling amount of science.

F1 Progression

The Art of the Formula 1 Race Car provides a dazzling look at the progression of Formula 1 throughout the years.  As a picture book, the book provides a beautiful look at the cars.  The author also provides a fascinating history of each machine and the races that it participated in.  Gordon Murray’s insight and analysis of each car provides the color commentary that makes this book special.

While it doesn’t provide a comprehensive history of every part of the sport, particularly the politics and tantrums, the book looks at the most interesting cars and places them in context.  It’s more than a coffee table book as the words are as interesting as the pictures which are breathtaking.


Book Highlights

  • Author Stuart Codling
  • Photographer James Mann
  • Forward Peter Windsor
  • Commentary Gordon Murray
  • 208 Pages
  • Motorbooks | 2010 | $45.00
  • Coffee Table Keepsake
  • Motorbooks | 2010 | $45.00

See AlsoBook Review — McQueen’s Machines

Harrison Card is a student at UNC Charlotte. He writes for UNCC's University Times, covering a variety of topics. Harrison is an avid motorsports fan, and has a huge interest in all sorts of automobiles ranging from the Ford Model B to the Honda Civic Type R.

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