Most helpful positive review
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Almost as good as it gets
on 4 December 2011
Cannell captures the '50s/'60s era, its drivers, the cars and the ethos compellingly, creating a story that contrasts starkly with today's Formula 1 scene. This was a time when track and race-car safety provisions were negligible and risks astronomical. Drivers died often, in all kinds of events from F1 to sports-car endurances races such as the Le Mans 24-hour.
Leaning heavily on Alan Henry's excellent account of world-championship Grand Prix motor racing, the author studies in detail Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips, featured in the dramatic conclusion, the 1961 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Enzo Ferrari is prominent, and comes across as barely likeable. Rarely have the emotional and psychological aspects of F1 drivers (and, implicitly, their MotoGP peers) been revealed so candidly. The book is well written, albeit somewhat overcooked in parts, especially when discussing the drivers' libidinous behavior. Technical aspects are addressed more in layman's terms than in language familiar to enthusiasts, perhaps to broaden the book's appeal. Example: brake fade is a term most of us know, yet he `explains' it.
Factual errors diminish the book, surprising from a contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Sports Illustrated and Outside, where fact-checking counted. Formula 1 cars using pre-WWII rules (1.5 liters/supercharged, 4.5 liters/unsupercharged), competed for championships before the FIA formally adopted F1 in 1950, with Ferraris, Maseratis, Alfa Romeos and Talbot-Lagos driven by the same F1 drivers--Ascari, Farina, Villoresi and Fangio. Jaguar's XK120 set world production-car speed records on Belgium's Jabbeke Highway (unnamed in the book) in May 1949, not 1950, at 132.6 mph, not 136. Grace Kelly drove a Mercedes 190SL in High Society, not a 300SL Gullwing (entry/exit are gymnastic, unfilmable with dignity for a woman, especially if wearing a skirt). The Carrera Panamericana traversed Mexico's Sierra Madre, not the Sierra Nevada, which is in California. These and other mistakes could so easily have been fact-checked, but weren't.
This book should interest readers who would like to gain insights into the era when F1 cars could be, and were, raced on normal roads and were not slot cars festooned with advertising and aerodynamic aids, able to run only on billiard-table-smooth tracks, as they are today. The drivers were original, brave and full of careless joy and indelible character, then. They lived and were prepared to die for racing. Cannell gets it.