Formula One is due to make its return to America this year at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
The championship has struggled to gain a foothold in the world’s largest economy, flitting between several venues with varying degrees of success.
But F1’s longest-lasting and surely best home it ever had in America was Watkins Glen in New York State. It has been off the calendar since 1980, though Lewis Hamilton drove there for a publicity stunt last year.
For two decades F1’s visit to Watkins Glen, coinciding with the picturesque New York autumn, was a traditional late-season race which on several occasions served as the season finale. That period is the subject of this new book by the son of the original organiser of the race, Cameron Argetsinger.
Much of the space in its pages are given over to photography. The quality of the images, chosen from a library of some 47,000, is excellent, and they feature detailed annotations.
They show a lot of the cars and stars of the time and there are some particularly great pictures among them – I especially liked the one of Stirling Moss enjoying a cup of tea at the wheel of his Lotus after winning a Formula Libre race at the track in 1960.
But less attention has been given on showing how the venue developed over the years. The chapter on 1971 describes the “massive changes” at the track but none of the images appear to have been chosen to illustrate what was altered.
And it seems especially odd that there isn’t a single map of the circuit in the entire book.
Despite insisting from the outset the book is not intended to serve as a “definitive history” of F1 at Watkins Glen, Argetsinger can’t help addressing some of the questions around the race’s demise. He treads a careful line when explaining the circumstances of his father’s departure from the the Watkins Glen Track Corporation at the time the 1971 changes were being planned.
In his view, the debts taken on to to finance the renovations ultimately led to the loss of the race. “It is popular fiction to blame [the Formula One Constructors’ Association] and the increasing financial demands by Bernie Ecclestone for the loss of the race,” he insists, pointing out that FOCA never received payment for the final race in 1980.
However he also stresses the efforts of the circuit’s later management to correct some of the track’s persistent problems, not least the destructive mob culture that took hold at ‘The Bog’.
The book’s greatest drawback is that there is too little of this kind of detail. The photographs and over-generous margins leave too little room for text.
It looks looks great, is thoughtfully laid-out and has plenty of great pictures. But ultimately it’s just too short on detail to get a higher rating. I found myself wanting to like it a lot more than I actually did.
IndyCar revived single-seater racing at Watkins Glen in 2005. It’s a shame this proved only a temporary revival. This book shows what a great racing venue Watkins Glen is.
F1 is poised to return to the New York area next year, but at a new street circuit in New Jersey. It’ll be a success even if it only has half the charm of Watkins Glen.
F1 Fanatic rating
“Formula One at Watkins Glen: 20 years of the United States Grand Prix 1961-1980” by Michael Argetsinger
Published by David Bull Publishing
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