ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 28 Email to Friend   Printable Version


The Bookworm Critique
By Gianni Giansanti and
Gerald Donaldson.
Published by Hazleton.
by Mark Glendenning,

Click here to buy this bookIt's hard to open a book for the first time without having some preconceptions about what lies ahead. The tricky part is recognizing this and trying not to let it colour your impressions of what you're reading. At any rate, sometimes you'll discover that your initial reaction was spot on; other times you'll find yourself in for a surprise. 'From Dream to Reality', it must be said, is a book that I approached with a fairly liberal sprinkling of skepticism. For one thing, it looked like (and indeed, proved to be) a close relative of 'Realisation of a Dream' by Gianni Giansanti and Alan Henry. Second, it was from the pen of Gerald Donaldson, who wrote a McLaren team biography called 'Teamwork' that followed the 1998 season. Both books have been reviewed in this column. Neither was met with a great deal of enthusiasm.

Modern team biographies tend to be dodgy territory at the best of times. More often than not, a book that promises to delve deep beneath the skin of the team concerned turns out to be little more than a squeaky-clean, team-sanctioned PR exercise. (The only exception from the last few years that I can think of is 'Against All Odds' by Maurice Hamilton and Jon Nicholson, a book that follows the Jordan team during the 1998 season. It was reviewed here last year, and in my opinion it still stands as the best book of its type in recent times). Rather than offering the reader anything genuinely insightful about the team and Formula One, these books frequently prove to be little more than variations upon a central theme of image-conscious mediocrity.

Unfortunately, 'From Dream to Reality' was pretty much as I expected. An earlier book, 'Realisation of a Dream', followed the development of BAR from their initial inception to their debut at the Australian Grand Prix in 1999. 'From Dream to Reality' basically picks up where the other left off - starting with Melbourne, Donaldson and Giansanti follow the progress of the team through their much-hyped first year in Formula One. Or, at least, we're there for most of it - the book ends rather abruptly after the Italian Grand Prix.

The biggest problem with this book is that all but the newest Formula One fans could easily finish it without learning anything at all about the team or sport. 'From Dream to Reality' clocks in at around 160 pages, yet the sheer pointlessness of much of the content is staggering.

I'm sure that all the claims about the people in the team being BAR's greatest asset are true; similarly, I have no doubt that all team members, from the receptionists at Brackley to the lollipop man in the pit crew, are desperate to do all they can to bring success. But to have it repeated over and over again, interspersed with the sort of words that motivational speakers at business functions just love - drive, focus, determination, perseverance, solidarity - doesn't really make for great reading. 1999 must have been an enormously difficult year for all concerned, and I'd have loved to read something about how they dealt with it and remained motivated. What must it have felt like to have spent hour after hour working on Villeneuve's car only to see it all go up in smoke as the car retired for the eleventh race in a row? Unfortunately, we never find out.

That's not to say that the book doesn't have its moments though, because there are is the odd occasion where somebody says something that does give the reader a glimpse into the life of an F1 team member. I quite liked this quote from John 'Digger' Digby, who runs the Hydraulics and Gearbox Section at BAR:

"We are the backroom boys in here...while the drivers are the heroes. Jacques Villeneuve can drive the car quicker and his race engineer can get the car to go quicker. We can't. But what we can do, through what we achieve here in the workshop, is give them a reliable car to work with. Gearboxes, and especially hydraulics, can be the Achilles' heel of the car. If we have a failure, I take it personally. I feel as though I have let the whole team down. I investigate the failure and try very hard to make sure it never happens again. Fear of failure can be very stressful, but I love my job" (p. 16).

While even this excerpt contains no great revelations, it does represent one of the very few occasions in any Formula One book that I have read where the reader gets a glimpse (admittedly, it is only a glimpse, but it's better than nothing) of how a team member is affected when the part of the car for which they are responsible fails during a race. What for us amounts to just a handful of characters on the results table (DNF - gearbox) must be an absolutely devastating event for someone back at the factory. Villeneuve in particular his been robbed of several opportunities for a good finish by mechanical problems during his stay at BAR, and it can't be a good feeling to have been responsible for the failure that cost the team a points finish, even if negligence played no part in the problem.

Also of interest were a couple of quotes relating to the Belgian Grand Prix, where both Villeneuve and Zonta reduced their cars to shrapnel at Eau Rouge during qualifying.,

Craig Pollock:

"We started off the season as a group of people who hardly knew each other; and by that Spa weekend it was absolutely clear that the group of people had become a team." (p. 80).

Jock Clear:

"The morale was always tremendous considering what we went through, particularly with reliability problems. It surprised me a bit, because I've seen well-established teams get into serious slumps over far fewer frustrations" (p. 81).

Pollock's comments were interesting, because it is so often the case that something which superficially is an absolutes disaster (as that qualifying session undoubtedly was), can often have a positive and unifying effect, and this it seems was the case at BAR that weekend. Meanwhile, the remarks of race engineer and owner of the coolest house in Formula One, Jock Clear, suggested that a 'problem' in Formula One could sometimes be a relative concept.

On one hand, a new team like BAR are still formulating their procedures and systems of working; subsequently, there is perhaps a fair degree of flexibility in the way they approach problems psychologically. To an extent, they are making things up as they go along and finding out what works. On the other hand, well-established teams like Williams (to whom Clear was presumably referring) have an equally well-established system of operating, and everything is planned to the tiniest degree. The appearance of a problem that wasn't anticipated and disrupts the team's operational culture would probably be cause for quite a bit of drama. Coupled with this, of course, is the simple fact that the further you move up the grid, the smaller the margin or error becomes.

Essentially though, the main role of the text seems to be to support the photographs. Many of you will be familiar with Giansanti's photographs, because he has been involved with a number of Formula One books in the past; most notably the photographic study of Jacques Villeneuve entitled 'A Champion in Pictures'. The images included in this book are certainly very nicely shot and well reproduced. Unfortunately, many of them are simply not all that interesting. Most of the race shots are more or less standard issue, as are the factory and pit photos. The interesting artistic shots that were scattered throughout 'Realisation of a Dream' seem to be largely absent (though page 145 does feature a rather nice double-page shot of some cows hanging out next to the A1 Ring).

There are some other cool moments scattered here and there, both posed and candid. Some of the portrait shots were quite good - for some reason I particularly like the shot of Ricardo Zonta standing in front of a lake full of paddle-driven, swan-shaped boats. Those who haven't followed Formula One for long might also find the factory shots interesting, for they give some feel for the peculiar environment in which F1 cars are created.

Ultimately, I'm struggling to find any real reason to recommend this book. A Villeneuve, Zonta, or BAR fan who desperately want an account of the team's early period would probably find that the predecessor 'Realisation of a Dream' has a bit more to offer than 'From Dream to Reality' (now that's something I never imagined I'd find myself saying); while the casual fan who is just in the market for a contemporary team biography would be much better off looking elsewhere. Plus, with a RRP of GBP 25.00 (USD 39.95), it isn't exactly outstanding value for money. Far better Formula One books are available at far lower prices. At the end of the day, 'From Dream to Reality' seems to share its most distinguishing quality with the 1999 BAR 01 whose fortunes it follows. Very flashy, very slick, but, at the end of the day, incapable of delivering the goods.

Mark Glendenning© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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