Book Review: The Chariot Makers by Steve Matchett
Half way through the season, the focus is on which teams have made more (or less) progress in the technical development of their cars to extract more performance. It’s clear Mercedes, Lotus and Red Bull have pulled away this summer but the design decisions at the start of the season are critical to whether the […]
Half way through the season, the focus is on which teams have made more (or less) progress in the technical development of their cars to extract more performance. It’s clear Mercedes, Lotus and Red Bull have pulled away this summer but the design decisions at the start of the season are critical to whether the team will have a good or bad year overall. Just look at McLaren this year. Steve Matchett was a former Benetton F1 mechanic (during the Schumacher era) who wrote about his days in the pitlane in his earlier books “Life in the Fast Lane” and “The Mechanic’s Tale“. He is now better known as a F1 TV commentator with NBC. “The Chariot Makers” was his third F1 book and delves into the engineering aspects of F1 for the fans who are looking for a little insight into this area of F1.
In between the backstory of the book which is set over bar conversations with F1 fans during a stopover at New York’s JFK airport, Matchett introduces the important design elements of building an F1 car and some of the history begind the technical developments – from the early aluminium cockpits to John Barnard’s pioneering carbon fibre monocoque; fuel issues (tanks, exotic fuel mixes, consumption), engine (turbo power, regulations, V10 and V12 power), exhausts, gearbox transmission, aerodynamics, suspension types and how mechanics deal with car understeer/oversteer.
The book only includes a few photos (from LAT Photographic) which makes visualising a lot of the technical descriptions a little challenging. Other books of this kind, like the Autocourse series, Science of Formula 1 and Peter Wright books contain lots of diagrams and photos to better explain the concepts. Matchett’s writing style is still good but for something as technical as describing a complex fuel tank, or a picture would help a lot.
Throughout the book, Matchett looks at the early 2000 cars (McLaren, Ferrari and Williams) and how they have evolved from the early 80s design ideas and technology. Lots of name dropping too from his ex-Benetton colleagues like Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne, etc.
I think these type of beginners guide to F1 technical design are probably better understood in a video format or illustrated book rather than in a standard story telling book. The Chariot Makers is a little mix of the author’s own personal career journey (first 2 chapters), anecdotes from well known F1 designers and Matchett’s own views on design and engineering.
Wow Factor or Money Shot: Photo of the birdcage chassis of the 1960 Maserati Tipo 60.
Suitable for: The general F1 fan who wants to understand the design aspects of modern F1 cars.