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August 17, 2009 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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F1 Formula One: The Great Design Race

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In preparation for seeing F1 I did what any self-respecting man—who has a) never owned a car and b) has very little interest in cars—would do: watch Top Gear. There is one great clip where Richard Hammond is let loose with a Formula One car.

For a man who has driven pretty much every car under the sun with skill and finesse, he never quite got the hang of driving the intricate and seemingly temperamental machine.
Hammond’s little experiment gave me a great insight into just how highly evolved these machines are. I say evolved because, as the full title: F1 – The Great Design Race implies, the cars have seemingly come from backyard jalopies to magnificent marvels of modern mechanics. In the 60 years since Formula One’s birth from the womb of the European Grand Prix races the cars—it seems a shame to call them cars—have literally evolved.

It is evolution sped up. You have a specific biosphere: the track, a changing environment: FIA rules, and you have diversity in the multiple teams and drivers. Throw in high stakes competition and you have a great design race. The evolution is tracked around the outside of the main exhibit in three timelines which detail events, FIA rule changes and the great names of Formula One racing.

The cars themselves are pieces of art. Perfectly engineered to go as fast as possible within the strict rules, the pristine body kits with their aerodynamic edges and swish paint jobs are simply more than just mere engineering.

The first cars of the 50s, like the the Babham BT20, with their distinct rolled up, slightly flattened newspaper shape and rear mounted engine stand next to Ferrari’s racing red F2004.

The centre piece of the collection is definitely the McLaren MP4-21. Its grandeur is such that they have segregated it from the other cars and mounted it on a mirrored throne. The silver and red body with the fat grooved tires and mood lighting sent shivers down my spine.

New Zealand’s connection is of course emphasised. The names and ephemera of McLaren, Hume and Amon are in a place of pride. Everything from dented helmets to melted steering wheels are there. Like the ad says, “driving is in our blood”, and our most famous racers are no exception to the dire warning delivered by the ad: Hulme died of a heart attack while going 301 kph on Conrod Straight at Bathurst. McLaren died testing a newly designed model and Amon had many narrow escapes.

Even if you’re not a car buff, F1 is worth a visit this holidays. Formula One is one of the most widely watched sports and this exhibition gives you a great insight into not only the design element but the people, the history and the antics. Best time to go is mid week, the weekend queues have been long and you really need a bit of time to digest all the information on display and to just look at the cars from every angle.

Salient has seven tickets to give away for F1 courtesy of Te Papa. All you have to do is complete the colouring in competition on page 70 and you could be getting the green light. Please have entries in by 5 PM Wednesday 19 August. Vrooom Vroom.

Te Papa
15 July—1 November
$12 Admission

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The editor of this fine rag for 2009.

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