John Barnard photo courtesy HistoricRacingNews
I’m standing in Ken Hill’s (Ken Hill Podcast) office in El Segundo, California., struck by the half scale wind tunnel model of Michael Schumacher’s Formula One car. Ken explained how it came to be in his office, as it was a thank you gift from John Barnard, who had used Ken’s shop to fabricate various drive systems for the various Formula One teams Barnard was working for, and at that time, Ferrari.
Schumacher F1 wind tunnel test car
I vaguely knew the John Barnard name from motorsports, but until Ken handed me his copy of The Perfect Car, I knew painfully little of his astonishing contributions to motorsports. Barnard is credited with creating the paddle shift gearbox in the 1989 Ferrari640, developing the first carbon fiber race car, ceramic brakes, and is single handled responsible for saving many F1 drivers through his fanaticism for driver’s safety.
This book is about a genius, a poet of engineering, a man who produced some of the most brilliant and beautiful race cars of the modern era, while battling enormous odds to do so. One mission drove him throughout his professional life—his attempt to create the perfect car.
John and Niki Lauda
The Perfect Car is the reluctant biography of one of the greatest automotive designers in the world, and I use reluctance, as Mr. Barnard had proved a great deal of reluctance with other previous writers intent on sharing his story with the world.
First ever paddle shift aboard Ferrari 640. (Photo by Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images)
Author Nick Skeens slices into Formula One history through the names of dozens of famous F1 drivers, while displaying how the Formula One machine evolved, in large part thanks to John Barnard, and how Skeens subject drove that evolution with an obsession treading close to madness.
I never would have read The Perfect Car if Ken Hill hadn’t mentioned he and Barnard’s continuing friendship, and the role he had been honored to play in the intricate fabrication of drive systems designed by Barnard. Barnard’s praise for Mr. Hill is generously sprinkle throughout the pages.