Monday 2 March 2020

Review of Maurice Hamilton's new book 'Formula One: The Champions'

Formula 1 world champions are indeed an exclusive bunch. Only 33 have reached the status from over 600 to compete in F1 across 70 years, not to mention the innumerable additional group who have not even made it that far. Few therefore would dispute long-serving F1 correspondent Maurice Hamilton describing F1's title as "the ultimate accolade in motorsport".

And Hamilton's latest book, Formula One: The Champions, is a fitting tribute to them. Released tomorrow on March 3 and published by White Lion, it is a stylishly-presented and sizeable 240-page hardback made up of written and photographic portrayals of every one of those 33, from Giuseppe Farina through to Nico Rosberg, stopping off at legends such as Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher, among several others, along the way.

Hamilton for this has allied his words with the photography of Bernard Cahier and his son Paul-Henri of The Cahier Archive photographic collection, reuniting the same trio that brought us 2016's The Pursuit of Speed title.

The task of portraying all the title winners going back to 1950, who as Hamilton notes at the outset are a diverse band in an ever-changing category, is a sizeable one. Yet these authors are well-placed to take it on, with Hamilton offering 40 years on the F1 front line as well as a keen eye for its history, and The Cahier Archive stretching back to the F1's beginnings and, uniquely, remaining throughout that time in its original hands.

Each of the 33 champions receive an individual and lavishly-illustrated portrayal across six to eight large pages, aside from Schumacher who perhaps appropriately gets 10. And Hamilton does not offer bland lists of achievements, as instead for each he offers a portrait of the personality and modus operandi, adding a few words of the driver's own too.

Hamilton also, sensibly, eschews the task of comparing or ranking the drivers, describing that as "impossible to say". He also, equally sensibly, doesn't offer statistical comparisons. Instead he lays out each champion's story positively, albeit without pulling punches, and lets the reader decide.

The format means Hamilton's portrayals are condensed, but even so for the most part he avoids being too broad brush. He also has clearly researched assiduously the champions from before his time, meaning the level of depth across eras is broadly consistent. Schumacher's, Alain Prost's and Ayrton Senna's chapters feel though more text-heavy than the rest.

The only minor criticism of the book is that two or three of the earlier champions' chapters, such as that on Mike Hawthorn, feel a little light touch. But for the most part the detail offered is rich, such as that Jack Brabham after collecting his OBE in 1966 was, by somewhat alarmed officials, found in a Buckingham Palace courtyard, underneath his road car whacking its jammed starter motor, or the lengths Nelson Piquet went to help an old mechanic friend left crippled after a customer "used a handgun to settle his bill".

Indeed there is plenty included that is little known, such as that a young Prost, who then was minded to be a footballer, only got involved in motor racing as he attended a kart track purely to keep his brother company on a family holiday, then won an impromptu race one-handed with his arm in plaster. Drivers' rises to the top as well as post-F1 activities, within and outside of motorsport, are covered too.

Cahier's pictures - some never published before - are plenty, varied and high-quality, and add to the insight of each champion in and out of the car. These include Alberto Ascari pivoting his Lancia D50 through Monaco's Tabac, a delighted Colin Chapman with his arm tight around the neck of Jim Clark, still in the cockpit, celebrating Clark's first F1 win of many, or Prost's McLaren exiting the Detroit pits under the towering gaze of the Renaissance Centre.

There's also a typically self-satisfied Farina, trophy in hand, glancing over his shoulder to smirk down the camera lens, Brabham power-sliding his BT19 as well as a shot of him poring typically over his Repco V8, and a bloodied Jochen Rindt in his Lotus 49 after a major smash at Montjuic in 1969 following wing failure.

Plus the book's foreword is by none other than Bernie Ecclestone. He states that of the 33 champions "one way or another, I knew them all;" adding that "they're very special people". Though being Bernie he also between times goes on a tangent about why he thinks the championship isn't that important...

Given all this, the book's £35 price tag does not feel excessive. The title will sit well in any F1 history enthusiast's collection.

You can also buy the book, as well as find out more detail on it, via this link.

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