“The Chariot Makers” (Steve Matchett, 2005)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

"The Chariot Makers" (Steve Matchett, 2005)“The Chariot Makers” is the third book by Benetton mechanic-turned-TV commentator Steve Matchett.

It follows a distinctly different approach to his previous titles “Life in the Fast Lane” and “The Mechanic’s Tale” in that instead of following a period in recent F1 history, the author explains how an F1 car is built through the fascinating question of: “how would one create the perfect modern F1 car?”

I’ll say it straight from the off: the premise that “The Chariot Makers” is built on is just a little too convenient for my liking.

The book allegedly came about through a chance meeting with some Formula One fans in an airport while waiting for a plane. It may well be true but even if it is, it feels like too much of an obvious plot device which the book rests on like a crutch.

And it doesn’t need it because, as with Matchett’s other books, it’s extremely readable and accessible. The perfect starting point for an F1 fan who wants to understand more about the technology behind the cars.

What I did find difficult to follow was the number of Matchett’s assertions that a particular area of technology (such as chassis strength) was not likely to see any further improvement in the future. This seems an odd standpoint to take given various anecdotes he retells where, basically, someone came up with an exceptional idea that no-one had ever though of before and blew anyone away.

But he’s the expert and I’m not. And that’s what makes “Chariot Makers” a great read. It straddles an awkward line between technical insight and death-by-diagrams exceptionally well. In fact, so deft is Matchett’s manipulation of his subject matter that the dreaded words “see figure seven” never appear once.

Matchett returns to a few of the themes and arguments he’s visited before, but only very briefly. Even if you reject his arguments about how important such technologies as traction control are, he’s undeniably persuasive.

I’d pay good money to see him square up against Max Mosley on why the FIA has pursued such a vigourous line in curtailing the freedom of car designers. Until that happens, this book is the best you’ll get your hands on.

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