Author: Adrian Newey
Summary: This was an engaging read and I loved the insider perspective, but I’d have liked more technical details.
I’ve been enjoying watching Formula One with my husband for the past few years and, as a computer scientist (me) and an engineer (him), we’re both fascinated by the technology behind these cars. Unfortunately, a lot of the available books on Formula One seem to be unauthorized driver biographies of varying qualities. So, I was very excited to see that Formula One designer and engineer Adrian Newey was releasing a book called How to Build a Car. Each section is devoted to a car he worked on and I had high hopes for some cool technical details in this book.
As you can probably tell from my build-up, this was not quite the technical book I was hoping for. It was, however, an incredibly engaging, insider look at Formula One. As someone who was only vaguely aware of Newey before seeing his book, I was still entertained even by stories that focused on his childhood or his earlier work in Nascar. I wonder if he’s always had a knack for telling delightful, funny, memorable anecdotes or if he’s mined these anecdotes from his life over years of talking to the press. Whatever the reason, every section had multiple stories that would make Newey the life of any party. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about his life.
On the technical side, I did learn some new things. I knew almost nothing about the aerodynamics of the car, so even thinking of the underside of the car as a wing was new to me. Still, I thought the technical details of the aerodynamics of the car could have been described in a lot more detail. I feel like I only learned the most basic concepts and only at a high level. I wanted more! And sadly, on the rare occasion when the author did go into more detail, the explanations were poor. Diagrams were sometimes included, but were often more art than aid, too stylized to be helpful in actually understanding anything.
This book was a more satisfying learning experience when it came to understanding how the teams work. I didn’t know quite how much responsibility a driver’s race engineer has before reading this book. The way the structure and size of Formula One teams has evolved over time was also fascinating and new-to-me. The personal stories from Newey about being a team member at a race or getting to drive a Formula One car also gave some interesting insights into the sport.
I did have a some smaller quibbles as well. There were a few wobbles when talking about women or cultures other than his own, but nothing egregious enough to impact my enjoyment of the book. Ayrton Senna’s death also could have been handled better. Although it is clear that the author was emotional about Senna’s death, the foreshadowing in the book made me feel he was sensationalizing a story most readers will already know is coming up.
Overall, I did find this a really enjoyable read. It just left me wanting to learn more about aerodynamics and still completely curious about the data analysis teams do! Still, highly recommended to any fan of Formula One and perhaps even to people who just enjoy a good memoir.