“The Cruel Sport” (Robert Daley, 2005)

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Having recently looked at Dr Stephen Olvey’s “Rapid Response” on safety in CART racing, I thought it would be a good time to review a similar book on the dangers of earlier Formula One.

The Cruel Sport was first published in 1963. Journalist and photographer Robert Daley covered F1 for the New York Times but grew disillusioned with the sport and the repeated crashes that claimed driver after driver.

This 2005 re-publication includes some new material but the main point of interest is Daley’s exquisite photography, much of which would not look out of place in a modern glossy F1 magazine.

“Racing drivers are often highly literate. [The Marquis de] Portago tries to read a book a day. [Innes] Ireland’s library includes books by Chekhov, Sophocles, Anatole France, Hugo, Conrad, Von Papen, Huxley, Kipling and others.”

I can think of few books that render the enormous differences between modern motor racing and motor sport in the 1950s and 1960s as clearly as The Cruel Sport does.

It leaps at you from every page – the perilousness of racing at Monte-Carlo with exposed lamp-posts and, of course, the harbour to catch you should you run off-line. The aristocratic drivers and the rawness of the machinery.

But what struck Robert Daley most about the sport forty years ago was the carnage. In the opening paragraph he describes how half the drivers at the first Grand Pris he saw in 1958 were dead by the end of the year.

Daley captures the morbid fascination of the dark side of motor racing. He outlines his distaste for the sport and how the deaths of Lorenzo Bandini (he was at the corner where Bandini died and photographed it) and the von Trips disaster turned him away from motor racing.

But in the new epilogue he admits that modern, safer Formula One leaves him cold: “[Michael] Schumacher races on small closed courses that are as manicured and antiseptic as designers can make them, circuits bordered by escape roads, by vast beaches of sand.”

On top of all that, but rather incidental to it, is the American perspective on Formula One that Daley’s book offers.

You won’t find much better writing about the perils of motor sport anywhere else. The Cruel Sports tells the reality and danger of motor racing like nothing else, and though it may seem far removed from the Formula 1 of today, it will never be irrelevant.

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Buy The Cruel Sport: Grand Prix Racing 1959-1967

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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