The Complete Book of Formula One
The Complete Book of Formula One. Click image to enlarge

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By Russell Purcell

Formula One represents the pinnacle of motor sport endeavours, so it comes as no surprise that there have been a lot of books written about the men and machines that make this sport so popular around the world. Motorbooks International recently published one of the best with their release titled The Complete Book of Formula One, written by Simon Arron and Mark Hughes.

What makes this 500-page tome special is that it includes information about almost every car and every driver to compete behind the wheel of a Formula One car from the sport’s humble beginnings in 1950, to the beginning of the 2008 season. Apparently there are over 4,000 images between the covers, most from the esteemed LAT archive, and only 31 photos are missing, all of subjects active prior to 1962. As this book will be updated on a regular basis, the writing team has put a call out to readers to see if anyone can locate photographs to fill the 31 vacancies. Remember, the goal is to be the “complete” record of Formula One.

The book is chronologically divided into six sections, organized around the six decades that comprise the Formula One World Championship’s storied history. The highlights of each year are noted in a series of concise paragraphs that introduce the reader to the main players in that year’s championship. These very informative blurbs are fleshed out with a carefully selected gallery of photographs each accompanied by their own caption. For some years a large, single plate photo of the season’s champion is included, and no doubt, is one of the highlights of this book. The authors have compiled a wonderful photographic chart that catalogues each and every driver and car combination for a given season, in reverse order, from the champion down. The driver’s name, age, nationality and the number of championship points earned combine to form headings for each photo. There is also a sidebar that lists the type of car, the name of the team for which it ran, and the races that the car competed in that season (along with the number it sported at each race). A list of individual race winners for each season is also included.

The benefit of such a complete photographic record is that it’s easy to follow the evolution of the cars from the early cylindrical shapes of the 1950s to the winged aerodynamic sculptures that rule the tracks today. I was surprised by the incredible variety of designs that competed in the early years, where closed wheel sports cars like the Mercedes-Benz W196 and Porsche’s 550RS Spyder ran wheel-to-wheel with the front-engine formula designs. Nimble rear-engine designs from the likes of Lotus, Cooper and Ferrari dominated the 1960s, a decade which also brought us aerodynamic wings and the arrival of commercial sponsorship interests.

The transition from 1969 to 1970 saw the entire field sprout aero devices and sponsor logos and corporate colour schemes are immediately evident throughout the grid. Flipping through the pages dedicated to the 1970s revealed that the teams and designers were a free thinking bunch, willing to try new devices such as turbines, ground-effects, enormous tires, sculpted bodywork, and even an extra set of wheels. Sponsorships allowed more teams to operate multiple cars, but Ford power was still the engine choice if you wanted to win – unless of course, you had a Ferrari.

The section dedicated to the 1980s reminded me that it was during this decade that we saw the rise of a class of drivers that proved to be the most competitive to date. Names like Piquet, Mansell, Prost and Senna would offer fans of the travelling speed circus that is modern Formula One incredible demonstrations of driving skill and race craft. The cars became more high-tech as crew members put down their wrenches and replaced them with laptops. Turbochargers brought big power from small displacement engines (Honda and Renault were now emerging as technological powerhouses), and tire warmers meant cars were ready to lap in anger as soon as they left pit lane.

The 1990s saw Honda and Renault continue to shine, while Ferrari began to re-emerge as a contender with the arrival of the sport’s German saviour, Michael Schumacher. Glancing at the photo grids as the years progressed towards the new millennium it was obvious that Formula One was losing much of its individuality. Unfortunately, many of the cars started to look the same as smaller teams began to copy the design elements that they saw working for the bigger squads. Small budget outfits like Tyrrell, Lotus and Ligier had to fold as costs began to spiral out of control due to the rapid technological advancements of the era, and the backlash against certain types of sponsorships (read: tobacco brands) meant it was hard to pay the bills. Second generation drivers Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve both secured World Championships which garnered enough media attention to help keep F1 on the front page of the sports section despite the obvious widening gap between the “Have” and “Have-nots” on the shrinking grids. Design-wise hideous grooved tires and odd barge boards became the norm, as did raised noses and wheel tethers.

Leafing through the final section of this book it is immediately evident that Ferrari was back on top as we entered the 21st Century. Lead driver Michael Schumacher captured a string of championships to re-establish the Italian company as a dynasty in Formula One. The sad part is that Formula One lost much of its lustre during this period as races became unexciting and largely processional. Teams like McLaren, Williams and Renault jockeyed to pick up Michael’s scraps, at least until emerging stars Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso landed on teams that had the know-how and funding to make regular appearances on the podium.

If you are a fan of auto racing, then this book should be in your personal collection. It is obvious that its authors did their research, and I doubt that there is a more comprehensive resource on the subject of Formula One available anywhere.

  • ISBN 078-0-7603-3456-0; $66.00CAN
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