ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 50 Email to Friend   Printable Version


The Bookworm Critique
By Christopher Hilton.
Published by Haynes.
by Mark Glendenning,

Click here to buy this bookEvery now and again a book crops up that could probably be reviewed without the cover even being cracked open. Familiarity with an author, the subject matter, or the publisher can often give you some fairly good clues about the lay of the road ahead. Sometimes of course, there are unexpected surprises. Good or bad, they are always welcome, if only because they keep the reader on their toes. (Besides which, they also give me something to write about). In this case, I certainly had some preconceptions about what could possibly be expected from a new book about Michael Schumacher written by Christopher Hilton. As happens from time to time, I was spot on.

It's hard not to feel that Christopher Hilton finished this book a few months too early. (It first hit the shelves in early 2000). Obviously it is a bit much to expect the guy to have a crystal ball, but much of the intended dramatic tension in 'Michael Schumacher: The Ferrari Years' has been rendered impotent by Schumacher's championship success this year. Perhaps that's an occupational hazard that one faces when they write about 'The Ferrari Years' before 'The Ferrari Years' are actually over.

As should be evident from the title, this book essentially retells the story of Schumacher's first four years at Maranello. Fundamentally, the content of the book is fairly solid - as an account of this period of the German's career, it is accurate and complete to the extent that all the major events at least rate a mention. The degree to which some of the major episodes of the past few years are covered is sometimes questionable, but more on that later.

The chapters are organised chronologically, starting with a brief (and I mean brief) overview of Schumacher's pre-Formula One days, woven rather irritatingly into an account of how the Ferrari team was progressing (or not, as the case may be) at the same time. For me, this section just did not sit right. Stylistically the overlapping of the two histories annoyed me, but that could have been because I had just run out of coffee at the time I was reading it.

However, the author's intentions here - to lay the Schumacher and Ferrari stories side by side and trace them simultaneously until fate brought them together in some kind of cosmic flashpoint - bothered me far more. It implies that Schumacher and Ferrari were always destined to meet; that one would always be somewhat incomplete without the other - much like the Wonder Twins in that cartoon from about twenty years ago. Schumacher cares about Ferrari; that much is beyond doubt.

But the factors that drive his enthusiasm for the Prancing Horse clearly come from somewhere other than some deep empathy with the team's tradition. And Italy's feelings for Schumacher are recorded within the pages of this very book as part of an interview with veteran Italian journalist Pino Allievi: "Schumacher is like a cyber-pilot. Italians respect him but they love people who have something to transmit from the heart..." (p. 150).

Hilton goes on to take the reader from the rocky beginnings of 1996, through the so-close-yet-so-far 1997 and 1998 seasons, and finishes with the drama of 1999. Theoretically, we are following the tale race-by-race, though detail is not necessarily given a high priority: "In Germany he qualified third and complained about the car, finished fourth" (p. 60).

The pictures, obligatory in these kinds of books, are abundant and tend to be reasonable if not particularly original. Surely they could have found a better photo of his mother though! Serious Schumacher fans might be interested in the author's photos of the kart track in Horrem where the young Schumi learnt his trade, though I'm at a bit of a loss to understand why a photo of some weeds (which may or may not have been the paddock at Horrem, and who cares anyway) was deemed important enough to sprawl across one-and-a-third pages, while the shots of the actual track are little bigger than business cards.

Hilton appears to go make a serous effort to avoid saying anything remotely critical in the course of his journey through the German's first four seasons with Ferrari. If something controversial happens to crop up, the author simply sidesteps it like a kung-fu master, lets it zoom by, and continues with his story. It's a very safe approach. It's also a very boring one. If there was ever a driver whose story didn't need to be retold it is Michael Schumacher. The fortunes of the German and his team have been explored to the point of exhaustion over the past few years, and the important events are still recent enough to be easily accessible to newer fans. Hilton has been around of a while, and the inclusion of his interpretations of some of the happenings that shaped Schumacher's story would have added some much-needed colour.

There's no real reason to recommend that you specifically avoid this book. If you feel that you need to hear the story of Schumacher's first years with Ferrari again, this is, from a purely factual perspective at least, as good a place as any to look. But I can't think of a reason to recommend it either. It covers a tired, very well trodden path, and it does so without any of the spark that sometimes makes such topics more tolerable. That I'm no great fan of Hilton's particular style is probably relates closely to my personal lack of enthusiasm, but the fact that many of his past books have been extremely successful suggests that there are many others out there who quite like him.

If you happen to come across this title in a shop, it might be worth flicking through to the final couple of pages to read a moderately interesting interview with Ross Brawn, but otherwise I'm struggling to find enough worthwhile material in 'Michael Schumacher: The Ferrari Years' to justify the cover price. Nevertheless, I suspect that many Schumi fans will find this book in their Christmas stockings this year.

Mark Glendenning© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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