The Bookworm Critique

By Mark Glendenning, Australia
Atlas F1 Columnist

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Seven years after 'The Science of Speed' and four years after 'The Science of Safety' comes another chunk of science from the laptop of David Tremayne. 'The Science of Formula One Design' does pretty much what it says on the box, offering some insight into the engineering warfare that is fought out to enable 20 guys to go racing every couple of weeks.

Tremayne has been swiping himself into F1 media centres for years now, and this kind of stuff is very much his forte. This book is a bit of a departure from the previous two in the series, though not least because it has broken away from what I thought was a rather effective format and design that was common to the previous two.

This might have something to do with the inclusion of diagrams by Giorgio Piola, whose work will already be familiar to armchair technology boffins.

F1 is unique amongst motorsport in the demands that it makes upon engineering and technology, and there are already bookshops laden with titles that shed some light on this side of the game. It's now down to clarity, tone and immediacy to separate the diamonds from the cubic zirconia. So where does this one fit in? Well, it's a diamond, but one that's been cut a little roughly.

First, the good stuff. Tremayne is pretty comprehensive in his exploration of the conceptualisation, design and construction of the various bits that are combined to create a Formula One car. From nose to tail and top to bottom, every bit of the car is removed, poked, prodded and explained usually with the help of someone who is actively involved in designing it. A combination of Piola's always-excellent illustrations and photographs do a good job of supporting the text, and are particularly useful in highlighting concepts that can otherwise be difficult for the average fan in the grandstands to grasp, such as the distinction between single-keel and twin-keel configurations.

The book also receives a gold star for immediacy, which is a vital point in any technical account of something with as accelerated a development pace as that in Formula One. Concepts as recent as the 'walrus-nose' on the earlier incarnations of the Williams FW26 are covered, although only in a speculative sense the book is not quite recent enough to explain why it was eventually abandoned. Still, it's easily as up-to-date, if not more, than any similar book currently available.

But there are some drawbacks. If you've maintained an interest in F1 technology long enough to have already read one or two other books on the subject, then this book is too focussed on the fundamentals to provide much in the way of new enlightenment. (If that sounds like you, you might be better off hunting down something like Peter Wright's 'Formula One Technology' instead).

If you are after the basics, then it is more up your alley, but even then, Tremayne seems to assume that his reader has a rudimentary understanding of some concepts such as how an engine works, so certain very basic things are left unexplained. For many readers this won't present too much of a problem, but if you are coming in at the ground floor then there is a chance that you might find yourself getting a little lost here and there. It's only a small quibble though, and most readers shouldn't have too much trouble understanding the bulk of the book.

Probably this book's biggest fault is that it has the misfortune of having followed closely in the wake of Steve Matchett's 'Chariots of Speed', which covers a lot of the same territory, but does so in a far more engaging way. I usually find Tremayne's style quite readable, but by his standards this one is a bit on the dry side.

Unless you are an absolutely committed technophile (in which case you probably know most of what this book has to tell you), you might find reading this book cover-to-cover a bit of a slog. When put up against Matchett's "I'll make you have so much fun you'll forget you're learning anything" style, it pales rather badly. It's a shame, because the basic integrity of what the book is trying to tell you is absolutely watertight, but that counts for little if the reader puts it down and wanders off halfway through. (Even if that is you, don't be put off trying to find the previous two books in the series, both of which are superb).

At the end of the day, this is one of those 'try before you buy' deals. If you have an engineering tilt but not a lot of knowledge to back it up, then this little number will set you up perfectly for the season to come. Knowing what little developments each team has brought to a race is nice, but understanding why they've done it and how it is going to affect the car is even better. Through its detailed text and strong supporting images, this book is more than capable of telling you what you need to know. But if you've been into this stuff for a while, check first to find out whether you're going to learn anything new.

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Volume 11, Issue 4
January 26th 2005


Mosley's Agenda

Technical Analysis: McLaren MP4-20
by Craig Scarborough

Interview with Ryan Briscoe
by Mark Glendenning

Regular Columns

The F1 Trivia Quiz
by Marcel Borsboom

Bookworm Critique
by Mark Glendenning

On the Road
by Reuters

Elsewhere in Racing
by David Wright & Mark Alan Jones

The Weekly Grapevine
by Dieter Rencken

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