The Formula 1 Drive to Survive, The Unofficial Companion
A guide to more than just the Netflix series.
Veteran author Stuart Codling has woven together many highlights of F1’s fabled history, neatly dovetailing them with current times, condensed into a quick-read summary.
By Don Taylor
Wed, Jun 28, 2023 10:31 PM PST
If not stated otherwise: images courtesy the publisher.
… Surely this book must be intended for fans who are newbies to Formula 1, I thought, cracking open Motorbook’s new "The Formula 1 Drive to Survive, The Unofficial Companion" by Stuart Codling. That target reader must be the person who just now has taken the on-ramp to following and getting hooked on F1, after being drawn in by the buzz of the Netflix “Drive to Survive” series.
And if so, with “Drive to Survive” series debuting in 2019, and looking back at the 2018 season … for many new viewers F1 history begins during the domination of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, the rise of Max Verstappen and Red Bull, and the (boo-hoo) luck for Ferrari, McLaren, and Williams, as well as the introduction of baby-face newcomers like Ocon, Gasly, and Leclerc. All of whom, by the way, who are shown on-que with troubled expressions, while their anxious parents, girlfriends, and wives dare to look on as they ‘drive to survive’.
OK, but what about all that occurred in the half-century-plus history of Formula 1 before that? How about Ferrari and Michael Schumacher’s command of F1? That was just yesterday, right? (OK boomer, it’s almost 20 years ago – editor).
… And the glory days of McLaren, with Senna, Prost, Hunt, Fittipaldi, Lauda, Hakinnen… and Williams when they were on top, all the champions we grew up with. And a championship team name totally missing today in F1, Lotus, with champions including Clark, Hill, and Andretti. These were the dominant teams and heroes for those of us who started following the sport sometime in the last century. That’s what F1 is to me. How can the new viewer really understand Formula 1 today without the backstory of the years from 1949 to when the Netflix cameras started rolling just five years ago?
And, if all of this history were to be covered in order to get that new fan up to speed, how could it fit into this 192 page soft cover volume? I have linear yards of F1 books on my shelves, and I am full of trivia. I’ve been absorbing F1 history like a Mothers 156801 Yellow Microfiber Ultra Soft Cleaning Pad since Henry Manney reported on F1 races 50+ years ago for the original Road &Track magazine. How can this guy Codling pack seven decades of excitement into such a slim volume?
Well, I have to admit I was too quick to judge. Veteran author Stuart Codling has seamlessly woven together many, many highlights of F1’s fabled history, neatly dovetailing them with current times. Not every detail, but he has managed to condense that history into a quick-read summary.
He includes chapters like these: “History of F1 in 20 Cars”, and “The Science of Speed: F1 Technology”, which covers the development of aerodynamics, engines, and hybrid power units.
Beside the vehicle tech, the book gives greater insight and understanding into a variety of other topics that are referred to in the show. Codling includes a chapter on team personnel roles, and one on pit stops and strategy. He really bares down on the governance of Formula 1, and in the business of F1 in a chapter he calls “The Money Game”. The latter cover sponsorship, driver salaries, and sport-wide compacts like the Concord agreement. It updates with the new ownership (Liberty) of Formula 1 plans, and how the financial reward from driver/team performance is the real core of the ‘drive to survive’. Sweating even the “small stuff, this author peovides readers with a sidebar on the marketing of high-end wrist watches through facsimiles screened on F1 drivers’ gloves.
Codling does a fine job in telling all of the above, complemented by a nice page layout and well selected color photos, many spanning across the open pages. This publication, true to its title is indeed a program ‘companion’.
It’s a subject-friendly interpreter and a comforting travelmate, what its not is a program guide, with episode by episode details, reviews, and spoilers. And, right up front, it is for sure not a People Magazine look at the drivers’ personal lives. The show already has enough of that.
Nor does it talk about the TV show’s production, editing, bloopers-and-blunders, or behind-the-scenes gossip. There are no interviews with the director, nor with anyone else about the Netflix show’s creation come to think of it. That’s beyond the scope of what’s offered here. That’s another story, waiting for books like “The Making of Drive to Survive”, or “The Mega-Ultimate Insiders TV Guide to Drive to Survive”.
In contrast, Codling’s book here is purely about the sport, and not the TV show. By staying in his lane, this author provides valuable background on this ultimate speed sport in order to enrich the experience of the more curious (but time-crunched Netflix viewers) all the while letting the show stand on its own without judgment.
I have to say that even as big an F1 fan as I am, I learned some new things about sport from this book, which now has a place on my bookshelf.
With the show now filming for its 6th season, and with three F1 races in the US this year, now might be the time to grab your copy.
LACar Book Review
"Formula 1 Drive to Survive – The Unofficial Companion"
Author: Stuart Codling
Format: Paperback + Flaps 192 Pages
Size:8.50 in x 10.00 in / 215.90 mm x 254.00 mm
Published: May 23rd, 2023
About The Author
Don Taylor formerly ran the NASCAR program for General Motors, worked as a car stylist at the Ford Motor Company, and as a National Tech Director for the NHRA. He currently serves as Director of the Stand 21 Safety Foundation, and for the UK’s Motorsport Industry Association. Taylor also writes articles for the UK’s Racecar Engineering magazine. Don currently lives in Boston, but makes frequent trips to Charlotte and to the West Coast, still owning a home in Pasadena.