Book reviews, July 2016, July 2016

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27: Patrick Tambay – The Ferrari Years

Massimo Burbi with Patrick Tambay

There are solid commercial reasons for focusing on the Ferrari element of one’s racing history – and sound practical considerations, too. “If I were to dedicate a book to my whole career,” Tambay says, “it would probably turn out bigger than most bibles…”

The Frenchman’s life story will feature shortly in the pages of Motor Sport, but here the former skiing champion deals briefly with the early stages of his Formula 1 career before concentrating on the 18 months he spent with racing’s most celebrated team. In essence it’s a detailed, event by event account that runs from Holland 1982 – when he subbed for the first time for fallen friend Gilles Villeneuve – to South Africa 1983, by which stage it was clear that his time at Maranello had run its course.

These were interesting times politically and emotionally and Tambay’s recollections are neatly catalogued by co-author Burbi, whose interest in his subject was fired by watching the Frenchman win the 1983 San Marino GP at Imola. Maurice Hamilton used his respected quill to apply finishing touches to the English edition and the whole is sumptuously illustrated with photographs from the excellent Paul-Henri Cahier. 

Whether or not you have a particular fondness for early 1980s F1, the thoughts of an intelligent, articulate racer were always likely to translate into a worthwhile read – and so it proves. SA

Published by Evro

ISBN: 978-1-910505-12-0, £60 (some signed copies available for £65 or £225 for the leather-bound edition)

Racing Team VDS – A Story That Never Ends

Claude Yvens, Christophe Gaascht

To racing aficionados, the VDS livery was every bit as much a part of the 1970s as Marc Bolan, The Cold War or The Godfather: red cars with lots of power plus a blue-and-white stripe running from tail to snout.

The story actually began in 1964, when Count Rodolphe (‘Rudi’) van der Straten created Team VDS to add a little impetus to Belgian motor racing, which he perceived to be in sharp decline.

The adventure began with a turquoise Mini, but by 1966 the team had switched both colours and focus as it moved on to run bigger sports and saloon cars with distinction, before stepping up to become a fixture in both Formula 5000 – Teddy Pilette winning British titles in 1973 and ’75 – and Can-Am.

Its colours were later carried in Indycar and Champ Car races and its spirit lives on today in Blancpain and other endurance races, through Team Marc VDS.

This is a year-by-year account of the team’s heyday, related in some detail in French and English and handsomely illustrated with period photos (plus an inset of Motor Sport’s cover from December 1974, featuring Peter Gethin’s VDS Chevron B28). 

Not a story for the masses, perhaps, but one with great soul. SA

Published by Benoît Dellege

ISBN: 978-2-960101-92-8, £49.99

Lotus 18 – Colin Chapman’s U-turn

Mark Whitelock

Author Whitelock calls the Lotus 18 ‘Chapman’s U-turn’ – not so much because the engine finally went behind the driver but because the boxy 18, now seen as a bit of a giant-killer, sprang from one of the Lotus chief’s ‘clean sheet of paper’ brainstorms.

And it worked. 

After outlining the 16’s weaknesses, Whitelock describes how the 18’s rigid chassis and highly adjustable suspension (too adjustable, to Stirling’s mind) pointed Chapman along a path that would soon bring titles as well as victories. 

Backed by driver opinions and generously illustrated, including technical diagrams, the book gives a thorough outline of the car’s development and race career, including its many variants and its ‘afterlife’.

Showing a good grasp of the technicalities, Whitelock (who saw the 18’s first win) also analyses its context and adds comprehensive chassis histories.

There are perhaps a few too many green and yellow headlines, though.  GC

Published by Veloce

ISBN: 978-1-845845-20-9, £50

Crash

Toby Vintcent

It is a publishing oddity that Formula 1, with all its inherent drama and big money intrigue, hasn’t spawned more thrillers.

Toby Vintcent hopes to change that. Crash is his second book set in the high-octane world of Grand Prix racing and it races along through various twists and turns like Lewis Hamilton after one can too many of Red Bull. 

The plot revolves around the eponymous crash during the Russian Grand Prix when fiery female racing driver Remy Sabatino inexplicably botches an overtaking manoeuvre at 210mph and ploughs into the crowd. The team suspects foul play and calls in the help of Matt Straker, a hard-boiled former British special forces colonel with an eye for a lie and a tooth for the truth.

With Russian authorities apparently using the crash as an excuse to target the decadent, thrill-seeking West, the investigation leads deep into the murky world where oligarchs, power and politics collide. 

The plot rattles along at breakneck speed and Vintcent, a former army officer, banker and lifelong Formula 1 fan, is good on conjuring the raw excitement of racing: drivers revving their engines on the start line sound like “the discordant tuning of instruments before a theatrical performance,” while the forensic examination of post-crash telemetric data is used well to offer tantalising glimpses of what might have happened. 

Some details fall flat – Vintcent’s penchant for mixing real-world events such as Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and Crimea as well as the shooting down of flight MH17 jar next to the fantastical goings-on around the racetrack – but overall Crash is every bit as dramatic as an afternoon at Silverstone.

The perfect book for F1 fans to take to the beach this summer.  JD

Published by Arcadia Books

ISBN: 978-1-910050-78-8, £9.99

An Estate Car Named Desire

Martin Gurdon

Anything adorned with a purple Triumph Herald estate scores marks for style – and much of the writing that follows is as colourful as the cover.

Gurdon’s prose will be well known to those familiar with The Daily Telegraph’s automotive output and this is a light-hearted journey through a car-obsessed life – a sort of autobiography with wheels.

There are cultural references that will strike a chord with readers of various ages – boarding schools, Margaret Thatcher, the décor in UK job centres, Eric Cantona and so on – but it’s the car anecdotes that hold it all together and the whole is written with a welcome light touch. SA

Published by Gerald Duckworth

ISBN: 978-0-715650-35-6, £12.99