GRAND PRIX RACERS Portraits of Speed By Xavier Chimits

GRAND PRIX RACERS Portraits of Speed By Xavier Chimits
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Photography By Bernard and Paul-Henri Cahier
Review By Tim Kennedy

This 10.5” X 11.75” hard-cover, 224 page book has 120 black and white photos and is of coffee-table display quality. Once you read it you will want to share it with others. It was published by Motorbooks, a division of Quayside Publishing Group. Originally published in May 2008, this book sold for $40.00 US and $44.00 Canada. Photography is by famous racing photographer Bernard Cahier and his son Paul-Henri Cahier. Their still and action lens work captures legendary F1 drivers intensity, vulnerability and brilliance. Cahier's photos have appeared for decades in nationally renowned racing magazines.

The evolution of F1 racing from the 1950s to the present era is captured in words and photos. F1 cars appearance and technical aspects and drivers attire (from helmets to racing apparel) are presented in the book's photography.

Since the mid-1950s I have followed F1 racing from afar in racing magazines such as Road & Track and Car & Driver and in daily and racing newspapers. I attended all eight F1 GP races in Long Beach, CA from 1976-1983, so I have an appreciation for F1 history. This book augments and completes my understanding of what made F1 drivers tick from the 1950s era to the current crop of F1 drivers. The book combines profiles of 72 F1 GP drivers with photographic images of key drivers and their F1 racing cars over six decades. I learned countless facts about most of the drivers included in the book. The author divides the 72 profiled drivers into six groups or categories of 12 drivers per group. He named the six categories of drivers as follows:

1 – The Stylists

2 – The Tenacious Ones

3 – The Romantics

4 – The Scientists

5 – The Acrobats

6 – The Tough Ones.


A brief description of the six driver categories follows:

1 – Stylists – were smooth, had grace, rarely thrilled the crowd, drove quickly and precisely on the edge. They preferred to start from pole position and not mix with other drivers on the track. They preferred leading races, not overtaking. They did not handle setbacks and obstacles well. Pure talent at times can be fragile, a weakness of stylist drivers.

2 – Tenacious Ones – cultivated their talent and did not come from privileged backgrounds or wealthy families. They learned early in life that success not only was due to talent, but hard work and perseverance. Steadfast effort and teamwork were key elements. They were popular with mechanics. They usually had long careers and some of them became F1 team constructors.

3 – Romantics – The public loved them. They were flamboyant, elegant, dandies. Many had short careers and lives and remain forever young. For them life was a party. They believed only the most boring guests stay to the end of a party. This group did not win many titles or even races. They viewed racing as something more than success, money or fame.

4 – Scientists – took chance out of racing and used scientific approach and telemetry to maximize success. They did pre-race testing and tuned their cars to match race strategy. These drivers are the norm in F1 racing currently.

5 – Acrobats – were happiest when they tried everything and stretched machinery to the limits. They thrived on the fastest tracks and usually were not multiple world champions. They raced for the moment, drove instinctively rather than strategically. They were not keen on long technical meetings and test sessions. This is a vanished breed. Technological change (computers and telemetry) forced these drivers to change or leave F1. Many acrobat drivers were killed racing by their bold, unwise moves.

6 – Tough Ones – had to fight to get to the top in F1 and believed racing is a combat sport. They struggled against unfavorable odds and grew tougher in the process. They were roughnecks and used that characteristic to unsettle rivals on and off the track. In six decades of F1 racing the best duels and greatest on-track confrontations were between the Tough Ones and the Stylists.

The book lists all 72 drivers home country, date of birth, date and cause of death, if applicable, total F1 GP starts and years active in F1 as a driver, victories, pole positions, lap records and total career points earned. It also lists the years each driver won a F1 world championship. The author names his five greatest F1 drivers in history (probably based upon multiple F1 world championships and total F1 victories). He points out that three of them (Juan Manuel Fangio, Jimmy Clark and Michael Schumacher) ruled supreme in their eras and only two of them (Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna) competed directly against each other in the same era. In fact, the two rivals were McLaren teammates for three years. Interestingly, the five drivers represented four of the six driver categories. Only Fangio and Clark were in the same category. The two categories not represented were the Acrobats and the Tough Ones. One wonders why the author excluded Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda, both three-time F1 world champions with 27 and 25 F1 victories respectively. Of note, Schumacher was retired from F1 and Ferrari for the last three seasons and is returning as a full-time F1 driver for the Mercedes team in 2010.

I will not name the 72 drivers profiled in this book and in which category the author placed them. Read the book yourself and see if you concur with the author. Incidentally, in the Introduction he named 12 F1 drivers that he did not include in the six categories. Some F1 drivers characteristics fit in several of the six categories. The author stated that he placed drivers in categories based upon their dominant personality trait. Read their individual profiles and see if you agree. Grand Prix races took place in the 1930s and before WWII, but those events preceded the formal F1 GP Series. The first F1 race for World Championship points was held May 13, 1950 in England at the Silverstone circuit. Since the F1 debut 600+ men and two women (Lella Lombardi and Maria Teresa deFilippis) have raced in F1. Drivers represented 35 nationalities. There were 28 World Champions from Italian Nino Farino in 1950 to Finland's Kimi Raikkonen in 2007. Since then two F1 champions from Great Britain (Lewis Hamilton and Jensen Button) have brought the total to 30 F1 World Champions in 60 years from 1950 through 2009. 

Pick One Up Today!

The Book is published by Quayside Publishing group and available for purchase at well-known national bookstores. It is available also from www.motorbooks.com. The price of the book is $40.00 US.