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The Men and Machines That Revolutionized Formula 1 Racing

Published on Mon, Aug 26, 2019

By: Doug Stokes

F1 MAVERICKS is Pete Biro and George Levy’s new book on the golden era of Formula 1 racing.


The Men and Machines That Revolutionized Formula 1 Racing

By Pete Biro and George Levy
Forward: Mario Andretti
Afterword: Niki Lauda
Published 06 Aug 2019
Publisher: Motorbooks an imprint of The Quarto Group
ISBN: 978-0-7603-6221-1
240 pages, 91/2” by 11” hardbound
300 color and b/w photos
$50.00 US / £$35.00 UK / $65.00 CAN

F1 Mavericks (all photos © Pete Biro)
F1 Mavericks (all photos © Pete Biro)

The use of the word “Mavericks” in the title of this smart new collaboration of the unalloyed photographic genius of the late Pete Biro and expository skills of George Levy is here employed to define some remarkable individual effort and vision in the highest ranks of world motorsports.

The period of time here is 25 years, the 1958 through 1982 racing seasons.

To quote the author: “From front engines to rear engines. From carburetors to turbos. From flexi-flyer space frames to carbon-fiber monocoques. From cars that went around corners on tiptoes to ones that generated so much downforce they could literally drive on the ceiling.” Sardonically Levy adds: “And, then, just as suddenly, the gush reverted to a drip-drip-drip.”

And, with that, the scene is set for a ride that’s fast, accurate, and entertaining. (One that somehow almost un-condemns some of us from once in a while not bothering to learn from history.)

Jim Clark aboard the game-changing Lotus 49 (© Pete Biro)
Jim Clark aboard the game-changing
Lotus 49 (© Pete Biro)

Indeed, for all the flash and filigree that there is in the world of Formula 1 racing these days there’s really not a lot of true innovation. Oh, the cars are crazy-complicated, every part on every car being the very latest expression of the state of the art of cyber-design taken what almost seems beyond what’s actually needed for the task at hand. And, for me, all the magic of anything even vaguely representing individual engineering creativity is gone … lost to algorithms.

Here Biro and Levy look back at people who they call “Mavericks” and who could just as easily be called geniuses, or innovators, or leaders, or pioneers in their respective work. They are (in chronological order:) Charles and John Cooper, Colin Chapman, Jack Brabham, Dan Gurney, Jackie Stewart, Mike Costin, Keith Duckworth, Jim Hall, Robin Herd, Bernie Ecclestone, Mauro Forghieri, Peter Wright, Gordon Murray, Ken Tyrell, Patrick Head, and John Barnard. I’ll go on record here as stipulating that book’s subtitle is no idle boast or wild supposition when the combined contribution of the above is weighed against any other era in motorsports history.

All but three of the above were engineers, designers, and hands-on participants in the incredible technical journey that’s related in the 240 pages of this book, and all of them could easily said to be “engineers” on a different level.

Sir Jackie Stewart makes this list by virtue of his open and outspoken concern for driver safety in a day when that was the last thing on virtually everyone’s (including the other drivers) mind. Stewart was a crusader in every sense of the word who had finally seen too many of the best and brightest drivers of the era struck down in the prime of their lives. The three-time World driving champion’s efforts were laughed at by other drivers, his courage was even questioned by some; but Stewart held fast and “engineered” a massive change in driver safety that rolls on to this day.

Pure racecar: 12 cylinders, four wheels, one driver (© Pete Biro)
Pure racecar: 12 cylinders, four wheels,
one driver (© Pete Biro)

Ken Tyrell, an independent (non-factory, unseen and unheard of for 40 years in Formula 1 now) entrant was half-lumber baron and half visionary and will always be remembered for fathering the Tyrell P34, the 6-wheeled F1 that startled the World. It didn’t beat the world by any means, but it was a wonderfully avant-garde wake-up call for sure.

One other, Bernie Ecclestone, will forever be known as the guy who monetized Formula 1 racing, simple as that. His organizational efforts are legendary and often characterized as something a bit beyond polite business comportment. His influence continues today as F1 draws mega-crowds to watch in person with Worldwide TV audiences dwarfing every other sport save World Cup Soccer every four years. When I think of Bernie Ecclestone, for some reason I think of the “Engineer” in the play “Miss Saigon”. I’ll leave that observation there.

Growing up in California in the 50’s and 60’s, I first knew of Pete Biro’s cool photography in Sports Car Graphic magazine, and subsequently became a friend of Pete’s. His laconic charm was ever a delight and his impish grin always preceded a good story, a joke, and/or a little magic trick that (even that close and casually done) had to be real magic (as that was the only plausible answer from a foot and a half away).

One of my early scribbled notes about the pictures in this book says it best for me. Pete’s photos are actually one level above “perfect”. They’re “right”.

Andretti, Lotus, Monaco (© Pete Biro)
Andretti, Lotus, Monaco (© Pete Biro)

And (if you’ll allow) George Levy’s “libretto” here is perfectly in tune with the magical “music” that Biro’s camera gives us. The writing here is brisk and informative with some of the best of the best journalists of the date and other eye-witness observers chiming in and being quoted directly from the time that this era was happening.

This is on-the-spot stuff (wonderfully personal people pictures along with the screaming images of F1 cars on the prowl) that gives perspective to each of the surging waves of racing technology that are covered in “Mavericks”.

I’ve read George Levy for years, but only just recently met him when he captained a celebration of life for Pete at the Magic Castle out here in LA. As readers will quickly discover, this young fellow has a well-developed reverence for motorsports and the people in it.

If I’ve made “Mavericks” sound like a hard-to-read, highly-technical book, it is not. Mind you every technical detail of each these Mavericks’ work is correct and well-explained; but the pace is far more adventure book than textbook. F1 racing is an exciting sport, and that sense is never lost to the numbers here.

And the legendary machines: You’ll find them all in this one, from the often fanatical Ferraris to the methodical (and just as quick) McLarens and Marches. Throw in the All-American Eagles, Brabhams, BRMs, Tyrells, Surtees’, Williams’, turbo-crazed Renaults, and the vaunted Lotus marque and you’ll have more tech rules “interpretations” than you can shake an FIA rule book at.

Here’s the deal, and it sounds a bit too easy (it is not). If you’re new to F1 this is a primer, a high-value launching pad for learning more about this remarkable quarter-century that impelled what we have now. If you’re an old hand, this particular combination of facts and photos will send you back in time in the first three pages. Either way, this is a book very well worth the read.

Formula 1 cars at Long Beach (© Pete Biro)
Formula 1 cars at Long Beach (© Pete Biro)

Forward and Afterward: I’m not sure if you could have nominated two more appropriate people to open and close this book than Mario Andretti and the late Niki Lauda. Both speak to the times and both seem to understand that, without “Mavericks” like these, motor sport would have been the worse for it. Both men possessed an innate ability to control a F1 car and both understood the times in which they competed.

This should have run first: But I’ll mention it here just in case.

Friends: It is perfectly OK to stagger (as I did for at least a couple of hours when I first got this book) through the photos here before you settle in for the read. They’re fully typical of Biro’s work, images that are wonderfully clear about what’s going on and that serve to frame the text and context perfectly.

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