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  • Budd Bailey

Book Review: The Formula


Review by Budd Bailey


For years, Formula 1 auto racing held a very small niche in the American sports scene. Yes, enthusiasts knew that the sport was popular around the world, particularly in Europe.

Admittedly, watching the annual race on Monaco was something of a curiosity, thanks to the unique nature of the course. But the Grand Prix circuit took a back seat (sorry) to Indy cars and NASCAR events for the most part on this side of the Atlantic. Champion drivers weren't well known unless they made a stop in Indianapolis for the month of May. 


All of that has changed in the past few years. Formula 1 racing has boomed in the United States in the past few years. The races are on television (ESPN) constantly now, and a documentary series on Netflix has proven to be a great way to collect publicity and fans. 

The transformation probably left some people here interested in the history of this particular divisions of the sport of auto racing. Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg are here to fill in that gap with the book, "The Formula." And they have a great story to tell.


The authors offer something of a course on the business side of the Grand Prix circuit. If this sounds like it could be a little dry, well, don't worry. Robinson and Clegg really made the characters come alive. It's an international cast with great stories involved.

 

Heck, Bernie Eccelstone could be a book all by himself. This former driver took over financial control of a team on the circuit, which led to him buying the television rights to the series, which led to him taking over control of the entire Formula 1 operation ... which made him very rich. Some of that money was lost in 2023, when a tax fraud conviction cost him more than 800 million dollars. 


The book offers one key insight into the sport that is a valuable tip for the uninitiated. Why does it seem that Formula 1 teams have stretches where they just dominate the competition, race after race? It turns out that it has a lot to do with the rules. While there are pages and pages of regulations about how the cars are designed and built, it seems that designers are constantly looking for ways to bend those regulations in a way that couldn't be called outright cheating. Perhaps the tires are made of a new material, or the car design leads to more downforce that keeps the vehicle on the road at higher speeds.

 

That can lead to a bit of an advantage, and that's important in a sport when a second per lap can be a huge edge in the competition. A team runs off some wins, and the rest of the field than either copies that change or the rules are rewritten to level the playing field again. Then the process starts all over again.

 

A couple of fabled moments in the history of the series receive plenty of attention too. One centered on the time a driver was ordered to crash his car into a wall so that his teammate could take advantage of the yellow flag and move up in the field. The other concerned the time when a ruling on where lapped cars would be placed on a restart would determine the outcome of a season-long championship. Those may be well-known to longtime fans, but they are amazing moments for the more casual reader.

 

Robinson and Clegg do a fine job of telling this as a human story for the most part. In other words, you won't get lost in the text even if you don't know the difference between a carburetor and wheel axle. They also give plenty of details of how Liberty Media came in as the new owners of the circuit and essentially revolutionized how the sport was presented to the public, which is greatly responsible for the current boom in interest (and, naturally, revenues).


You don't have to be a gearhead to enjoy "The Formula," which is a first-class job. You'll want to give it the checkered flag when you're done.


(Follow Budd on X.com @WDX2BB)

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