Atlas F1

The Bookworm Critique
by Nigel Macknight; Published by Hazleton.
by Mark Glendenning,

Click here to buy this bookIf you had a room full of, say, forty Formula One fans, you could probably split them neatly into two football teams made up of those who believe that a driver's ability is what counts in modern Formula One, and those who think that the car is everything.

This isn't really the time or place for me to enter into that particular debate, (besides, I am a fence-sitting wimp); it's enough to say that even the biggest exponent of the 'drivers win races' theory would have to concede that technology is virtually a defining feature of late 1990s Formula One racing.

In light of this, it is perhaps a little surprising that there are only a handful of books which address the technical aspects of Formula One cars, and fewer still which are aimed at those of us who don't have engineering degrees. This may be partially due to a perceived lack of demand. Amazing as a 1997 Williams or a 1998 McLaren may be, they generally do not captivate the average fan in the same way as a Michael Schumacher or Jacques Villeneuve, for the simple reason that people can relate to other humans far easier than they do to machines. Formula One may be a team sport, but the fans follow drivers, not cars.

There is, though, a contingent of F1 supporters who do find the technical aspects of Formula One fascinating, and I count myself amongst them. It was eager anticipation, therefore, that I began reading Macknight's 'Technology of the F1 Car'. And the great expectations that I placed upon the book at the outset probably contributed to the disappointment that I felt when I finally put it down.

It was difficult to pinpoint the exact audience that 'Technology of the F1 Car' is aimed at. The extent of prior knowledge that Macknight seemed to assume that his readers had occupied a hazy middle ground. On one hand, much of the technical information that comprises the greater part of this book was quite basic. My personal knowledge of Formula One technology is limited to what I have gleaned from magazine articles and the like, yet the majority of the book's contents dealt with concepts that were already familiar to me.

On the other hand, I had to keep reaching for the dictionary to find out what things like 'ferrous metals' are. (It's an iron-based alloy, in case you're wondering). A glossary or some definitions for a few of the more specialised terms would have been useful. The Formula One team and driver information is extremely rudimentary, and would only be of use to readers who were interested in engineering rather than Formula One. Of course, that type of audience would probably find the technical information to be overly simple.

The basic format of the book could also have benefited from some refining. 'Technology of the F1 Car' is very image-heavy, which is vitally important for a book of this kind. I was halfway through reading it, however, before I realised that the text was actually intended to serve as an extended caption for the photographs. Unfortunately, this didn't really work. Frequently, a close examination of a photo would raise questions that related specifically to that picture rather than the general concept, and subsequently the text did not address it. It would have been better to allocate a brief caption to each photo that explained what exactly was going on, rather that trying to do a full paragraph that was often only tenuously linked to the picture.

The photos were also rather repetitious - maybe my lack of knowledge on the subject means I missed something, but I can't see what can be learned from half a dozen almost identical photos of engines (only the manufacturers were different) that could not be learned from one or two. Also, the great majority of the photos were exterior shots of various components of a Formula One car. It would have been good to see some internal shots or cross-section diagrams, even if the engines or gearboxes that they were depicting were a couple of years old.

Those who argue that Formula One technology is boring will find plenty of ammunition here. As I said earlier, I have a genuine interest in F1 engineering, and even I found this book difficult to get through. This was particularly frustrating, because as anybody who followed Dr. Harvey Postlethwaite's technical column in F1 Racing magazine a couple of years ago will attest, it is quite possible to write about this subject in a manner that's both informative and engaging.

Macknight keeps things very dry virtually through the whole book, and the few occasions that he does attempt to lighten up seem awkward and out of place. The somewhat tedious nature could be overcome to some extent by keeping 'Technology of the F1 Car' as a reference and just referring to the various sections as you need them, but even this is made difficult by the lack of an index.

In spite of all this, 'Technology of the F1 Car' is by no means a failure. As far as I can make out, the information seems to be well researched and accurate. The focus is on the standard concepts in Formula One cars, so most of the subjects that Macknight tackles apply equally to McLarens and Minardis. It appears to have been published sometime around mid-1998, so it's fairly current, and I'd imagine that most of the themes that are addressed would remain relevant for a little while yet.

Personally, I probably found the chapter on crash testing to be the most enlightening part of the book, with the section on chassis construction running a close second. Given that Computational Fluid Dynamics has been hyped as the design tool that will render wind-tunnels redundant, it was interesting to note that it only received a small amount of attention in the aerodynamics chapter.

Generally speaking, though, you would need to possess a healthy interest in Formula One technology, a great deal of determination, and a little - yet not too much - prior knowledge of these cars to slog your way through this book. If you are that person, you'd probably find 'Technology of the F1 Car' to be reasonably rewarding. Otherwise, I'd recommend having a flick though it before you buy it, so you can judge for yourself whether or not the level of technical information that is provided suits your needs.

Mark Glendenning© 1999 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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