Grand Prix Racers - Portraits of Speed
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Review and photo by Russell Purcell

Many books about Formula One tend to focus on the long history of the teams involved, the glamorous spectacle, and the ground breaking technology and speed, but it is the men behind the wheel that make up the true story of the Formula One World Championship.

Grand Prix Racers – Portraits of Speed offers a unique look at 72 grand prix winners who helped shape the history of Formula 1 between 1950 and 2007. This book offers the F1 fan an incredible collection of beautiful, black-and-white portraits captured by legendary French photojournalist Bernard Cahier and his son Paul-Henri. This hefty tome is cleverly divided into six sections as a means to categorize each of the racers based on their individual personalities and driving styles. As you flip through the pages it is immediately evident that writer Xavier Chimits has done his research, as the concise biographies he penned for each driver bring some colour to the pages that should help recharge your memory banks.

Section One: The Stylists

These are the men who drive effortlessly smooth, but tend to dislike mixing it up on the track. Xavier stresses that these drivers do not cope well with setbacks and obstacles. I was surprised by some of the names in this category, as multiple World Champions Ascari, Fangio, Clark, Piquet and Fittipaldi are on the list. Seeing Jenson Button’s name on the other hand, was not a surprise.

Section Two: The Tenacious Ones

Xavier refers to the men on this list as the “labourers of F1.” These are the drivers who made it behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car through a combination of hard work and perseverance, not just natural talent. The prime example given is Michael Schumacher, the man with more victories than any other driver in the history of Formula 1. We are reminded that Michael’s countryman Heinz-Harald Frentzen was faster than Michael during the period they drove together as part of the Mercedes-Benz development squad, but when you compare their eventual records, it is obvious Mr. Schumacher was willing to put more effort in.

Section Three: The Romantics

These drivers became fan favourites because they had more depth than the other men on the grid. They were seen as having something special. They were flamboyant. You will find drivers like Keke Rosberg and James Hunt in this category, but the king of them all is the late Ayrton Senna. The author reveals that Senna was a shy and unusually hypersensitive man who was not very popular with his peers. The fans, on the other hand, saw him as a “mystical” character whose passion for Formula 1 drove him to seek perfection whenever he got behind the wheel of his race car.

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