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Art of the Formula 1 Race Car: a review
Don’t be fooled by the contemporary McLaren F1 car on the cover, Stuart Codling’s Art Of The Formula 1 Race Car takes in a far wider context than that, from the GP-winning Alfa Romeo 159/159s of the early 1950s, through each and every important racer and innovation – the switch from front to rear engines; the Maserati 250F; the rise of aerodynamics, spaceframes and monocoques; the six-wheel Tyrrell; the brilliance of Colin Chapman’s cars – to the MP4-23 that Hamilton and Kovalainen drove to six victories between them in 2008.
Along the way there’s archive pictures, beautiful studio shoots, race stats and fabulous writing, plus revealing second opinions from none other than Gordon Murray. This is the story of F1, presented beautifully, told simply and elegantly by way of its defining machinery. Here are three of its highlights…
Absent from F1 since 1939, Mercedes’ returned to the sport in July 1954 with the W196. Pictured here is the closed-wheel version (an open-wheeler was also raced), a slippery shape designed for high-speed circuits like Reims, where Fangio won on the car’s debut. ‘From an engineering point of view,’ says Gordon Murray, ‘you’ve got all three things working together now: the chassis, with a multi-tubular spaceframe; the engine, which was very advanced, and the third element is the aerodynamic sophistication. The thing that amazed me was the swing-axle suspension. It does let it down.’
Eighteen months after the W196’s debut, in the wake of the Le Mans disaster – the silver arrows would again disappear from F1 racing. They wouldn’t return for a further four decades.
The Lotus 72 was designed by Maurice Phillippe, powered by a Cosworth V8, and remembered perhaps more for its iconic John Player Special livery than any major advances – it was a relatively simple car, the volt face after Hethel’s experiments with four-wheel drive and gas turbine engines. Yet it was still, according to Gordon Murray, ‘technically ahead of its time’, with side-mounted radiators allowing for a thin, wedgy nose, and complicated torsion bar suspension designed to eliminate squat and dive.
The 72 brought both triumph and tragedy to Lotus. Triumph in that it raced for six long years, and won 20 of the 76 of the races it entered. Tragedy in that Jochen Rindt had already done enough to win that year’s championship when he died in at Monza in 1970, both the car and the crash barrier he hit disintegrating on impact.
Nigel Mansell had almost twice won the driver’s championship with Williams when he left for Ferrari in 1989. But as Mansell endured the endless frustration at Maranello that would eventually cause him to briefly call time on hi F1 career, Frank Williams regrouped, coaxing Mansell out of retirement with the FW14, a Renault V10-powered, Adrian Newey-designed championship contender.
The car was finished late, Mansell only testing it for the first time a month before the start of the 1991 season, and glitches with its semi-automatic gearbox cost him a shot at that year’s title, but 1992 was a different story: Mansell won the first five GPs, and had the championship in the bag by race 11 of 16.
Mansell finally achieved what he’d always wanted and, faced with the prospect of pairing with Alain Prost – his teammate and cause of much friction at Ferrari – for 1993, he quit again.