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Book review: ‘Racing Green’ by Kit Chapman

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You’d think that motor racing would be the last sport to promote environmental and scientific awareness, but science journalist Kit Chapman proves that to be far from the truth.

When you think of motorsport, your mind likely steers toward Formula One (no pun intended). But the science behind the sport is so much more than teams driving around a track at 200-plus mph. In fact, over the years, motorsport science has contributed to a wide range of applications: from climate change solutions to help in the fight against Covid.

Indeed, motorsport science is “a story of invention, of myriad discoveries, ideas, and technologies developed through racing,” journalist Kit Chapman claims in his latest offering ‘Racing Green: How Motorsport Science Can Save the World’ (Bloomsbury, £18, ISBN 9781472982186).

Full disclosure: this book is not one for those looking for a fun and easy read. Chapman goes into immense detail about the science behind why cars work, and how the racing industry is constantly at the forefront of making cars on our roads better. But if you want to learn more about this world in a fun and engaging way, then ‘Racing Green’ is ideal.

Chapman’s clear passion for all things motorsport seeps heavily through the narrative of this book, and he engagingly walks us through the history of motorsport, the extraordinary engineering that goes into all the materials and parts, sprinkling each story with humorous anecdotes.

Though the title of the book suggests he will address climate change and the use of electric cars to combat that, which he explores near the start with the story of Formula E, Chapman doesn’t solely focus on the automotive aspect of the sector. In fact, one of the more interesting topics he explores is how motor racing innovations are helping in areas such as healthcare.

In this section, he explains how some of the same technology that makes race car engines more efficient, whether electric or internal combustion, helped make ventilators (the UCL-Ventura CPAP device being the most notable one) that were used on patients during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic more efficient as well.

The role engineers have played in other fields, most especially in aiding hospitals during the pandemic, paints a bigger picture of the racing industry’s relationships with the rest of the world, and how the sector can also build more collaborations with those outside their own community. This was the most interesting part of the book, I felt, justifying the title's suggestion that science can indeed save the world.

This glimpse into the “hidden boons of motorsport” will also educate you about how the design choices made in motorsport, whether they work, invariably end up rippling through our homes and communities. For example, Chapman explains how the testing of the aerodynamics of a Formula One car helps keep the fridges in supermarkets cold.

Chapman explores a variety of topics and interviews people of all genders in a wide variety of specialties. It gets very technical and detailed, so unless you’re well versed in the topics, it will take careful reading to understand those sections. But Chapman intentionally uses language that will help readers gain a rudimentary understanding of the science, using many everyday examples to expand on this.

‘Racing Green’ helps to inform, and I’d imagine inspire, readers of the creativity and determination of humans to invent and improve on the things they are most passionate about. The book should certainly appeal to motorsport fans, but it may also gauge interest from non-motorsport fans who just want to learn the engineering behind the sport.

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