I grew up in a book-loving family. My mom heads out to Half-Price Books every few weeks, inevitably returning with a stack of discounted literature from the motorsport section. Her greatest score yet may be the goofiest and most wonderful book I’ve ever read: Grand Prix: Formula One in the Deadly Years by Richard Melville.
Grand Prix was published in 2014. The author himself was a racing driver in the 1960s to 1970s, after which he pivoted to yacht racing. Melville’s two passions quickly become obvious in the novel, which follows a fictional F1 driver named Will Archer through his final year in racing as he tries to secure his first World Championship. Archer is part of a smaller team — not one of the legends like Ferrari or Lotus — and he has plenty on his mind. He’s trying to develop an island in Central America. His ex-girlfriend says she’s pregnant. He has a new Spanish girlfriend whose father raises fighting bulls, who’s helping Archer finance his island. To get away from it all, Archer regularly heads out on his yacht, the Imperialist.
When I say Archer goes through hell and back, I truly mean it. This man survives a shark attack. He yachts through a hurricane. He crashes his personal airplane. He walks away from multiple, terrible crashes throughout the racing season. He almost gets a ride with Ferrari. He shoots at thieves trying to loot his yacht and ends up in the thick of a Central American extortion scandal. He recounts a lot of sex with a lot of different women. He falls in love with a woman who, at one point in the book, is suspected of being a witch, but mostly just turns out to be A Cool Chick Who Isn’t Like The Rest Of These Blowsy Gals, of whom Archer is regularly critical. I’m sure I’m missing something, because I forgot plenty of Archer’s many escapades when I recounted the book’s plot to my husband.
Melville knows his stuff when it comes to racing, yachting, and flying. As someone who likes a little more grounding in the location, I did struggle to figure out where Archer was racing (and I really wanted to know what year this was set in, but again — that’s probably just me needing to know every little detail). You can tell Melville has experience.
I did have a few criticisms, but because this appears to be a self-published book on Amazon, I’m not going to get too picky. The misogyny can become a little off-putting at times — the first chapter details Archer’s sexual escapades with his girlfriend’s “fat friend,” for example. The technical language can be a little difficult to grasp if you’re not familiar with, say, yachting or flying. There are tons of storylines that aren’t wrapped up by the end of the book. But I think the biggest critique I have was the title, which heavily implies that this is a nonfiction recounting of F1's era of deadly speed, not a novel about an imaginary driver.
But if you’re looking for an entertaining racing-related read to keep you busy this weekend, you’ll have that in spades with Grand Prix.