Book Review – John Barnard Perfect Car
John Barnard should need no introduction, but, I guess to many younger F1 fans his greatest achievements were probably before they were even born, but, those innovations are still obvious on each car on the grid. This book takes a look at the life of the man who brought motorsport the first carbon fibre chassis, the paddle shift gearbox, took ground effects to Indycar racing, carbon fibre suspension, carbon gearboxes, the modern wind tunnel techniques etc etc. The book is also an in depth look at each of these innovations and the stories behind them and the racing they impacted.
Having worked directly for John Barnard for 6 years at his design and development centre, B3 Technologies during the time of our involvement with Prost Grand Prix, and latterly in projects for McLaren etc, I was really unsure if I was going to like this book. I assumed that it would be Johns side of the story only, and in that I didn’t think the reader would get to see the real man behind the legend. I guessed wrongly that those elements of his character that we saw as flaws would be glossed over.
It’s a great book! How on earth the author Nick Skeens got a lot of the negative aspects of his character and history passed him I will never know. Perhaps the old git has mellowed somewhat in the last 15 years that I doubt. I suspect Nick Skeens is someone who John respects and to be fair he’s dealt with all of that with a lot of sympathy. Personally I respect John a lot, I like what kind of designer he helped shape me into. I idolised him as a young lad, and it was his level of success and innovation that drove me to want to be an F1 designer. That I made it and to work alongside him was a dream come true, a dream that turned in to a nightmare at times. I expected the book would drive me mad, rile me with images of the past that I’ve wanted to forget, I didn’t really want to read it. Having it read it, for me it’s been cathartic, helped me get back to a place where I can respect him for his achievements, be glad of the things I learnt from him and have a little bit of understanding and even slight sympathy for what made him the “Prince of Darkness” I knew him as.
The book is not just Johns personal story, but, also an analysis of the history of the design development of F1 and racing cars in general from the late 60’s to the late 90’s. Nick is an author of design books, never before of motorsport design and there’s a thread running through the book of his admiration for the beauty of the innovations that John has been responsible for during his career. It’s also the story of those who joined John at the various establishments he worked at, and it seems a chance to thank some of those that followed him and became his core team. I felt it at the time too, to be one of Johns boys, really held sway in other teams. You must be something a bit special to be in his inner circle so to speak. John has never been one for openly praising people but now in his 70’s this book goes some way to thanking those who spent so long by his side, and took so much of his “scud” like abuse.
Of course there are also great anecdotes too, a different side to the classic stories we’ve read in the motorsport press. His meeting with Enzo to do the deal to join Ferrari is a particular favourite of mine as I remember him telling me a slightly different version as we were stuck on the runway in bad fog flying out to the launch of the Prost AP03.
He’s been very quiet of late, he never was one for being on TV or in the press, and as much as I thought I loathed him, I’ve missed knowing that he’s OK and still keeping well and active. This book and the PR behind it have temporarily thrust him into the public eye again, and he’s lost none of his bite clearly. His outspoken views on the current state of McLaren for example grabbed a few headlines in the F1 sections of the press. I’m relieved to see him well, and the furniture designs he’s been involved with in his retirement are quite breath taking, so clearly he’s still got that certain something that made him such a legend in our sport.
There’s something for everyone in this book. For people like me there’s a chance to relive our careers, for design buffs there’s a chance to know in detail all the innovations that changed the face of F1 forever, for F1 historians there’s juicy stories and a chance to really understand what went on politically behind the headlines, and for the younger F1 fans there’s that opportunity to catch up and understand why F1 is how it is, and why it’s so special because of it.
Quite coincidentally the design legend that took the baton from John Barnard in some ways also has his autobiography out at the moment…….
Book Review – Adrian Newey How to Build a Car
Adrian Newey is perhaps the most successful F1 designer in history. His list of world championship winning cars is truly astounding. Even after 30+ years he’s still the number 1 target for many of the grid to have as Technical Director.
I’ve never met Adrian Newey, although I did see him close up working away at his drawing board one day at McLaren when I was there for a meeting. The fact that he wasn’t involved in the meeting, and the lack of any negative stories about his personality from those that worked under him, I guessed he must be very different from John Barnard. So I was very keen to read his story and see how someone can be so successful and yet so different in approach to John.
Completely by accident I got the books around the same time and I read Johns first and Adrian’s second, and that worked brilliantly as each development they discuss is then in chronological order. The contrast between the two is striking, but, also the similarities in the way they were brought up and their history and successes with American racing. I definitely identify with their upbringings and for young people looking for a career in motorsport it should provide them with a blueprint of how to learn your trade and skills.
Adrian comes across as a really nice guy, very clever of course, but not a particularly successful academic in fact there’s a hint of cheeky tearaway in a lot of the stories. Like Johns book the analysis of the designs and the description of how each light bulb moment came about really make you feel like that could be possible for anyone, but, in reality only those with that special talent put themselves in those inspirational zones to create such seemingly simple yet effective developments.
Adrian takes the reader through each of his most notable cars chronologically and tells us all about the inspiration for each significant development step, but also the story of the racing season behind each car, and he’s very honest about the politics and characters he had to deal with in each team.
I was shocked and actually gutted to hear the story of Frank Williams and Patrick Head with respect to Senna’s death and the trial that followed. Also Adrian doesn’t hold back about Ron Dennis and his departure from McLaren.
At the end of the book you start to see a man that’s losing interest in F1, and doesn’t like what it’s become and where it’s heading. That’s also very interesting to hear from a man that’s achieved so much over such a long period in F1.
Maybe to summarise I ought to give some stars out of 5. I honestly think both books deserve a 5 star rating, but, for very different reasons. They are both very readable books, not only for those of us with a technical background and understanding of racing cars. I’m definitely recommending both to all my petrol head friends.
About me. I’m Darren George, and for 10 years or more I was a design engineer in F1 working alongside John Barnard whilst we worked for Prost Grand Prix, and then did special projects for McLaren and other teams. Since leaving F1 I’ve continued to design cars, particularly racing cars, and have my own range of kit build sportscars. I’ve also established GP Simulation as a consultancy service to race drivers and teams to develop driver’s skill and the engineering understand of race cars.
@gp_racesim on Twitter