The Bookworm Critique

By Gianni Giansanti
with Alan Henry.
Published by Hazleton.
by Mark Glendenning,

Click here to buy this book

One aspect of motorsport that distinguishes it from the vast sea of other sports out there is that the spectator has two options when it comes to selecting loyalties - you can follow a driver, and you can follow a team. The mystery behind why a person follows a particular driver is no greater than for any other sporting hero - presumably, Johnny Wonderful has some quality or qualities that you either admire or identify with.

Following a team can sometimes involve a similar process. The one great difference though, is that it is more difficult for a fan to relate to a team than it is to a driver. With the possible exception of those lucky enough to be cyborgs, most F1 fans have a far easier time identifying with Rubens Barrichello than they do with the new Jordan EJ10. It's for this reason that a team's image is so important, for it adds a 'human' element to a non-human entity. Essentially, the team's image becomes their personality. For the most part, teams themselves are more than aware of this. And, as is the case with humans, some teams need to work on their image more than others.

Ferrari, on one hand, have reached the point where they need to do little more than ensure that they keep their cars painted red. (Or, for the more cynical among you, a kind of Marlboro-tinted reddish-orange). Other teams, such as McLaren and Williams, trade heavily on their proud race record. Eddie Jordan, meanwhile, has invested a massive amount in his team's image in the past three or four years, with tremendous success. Newcomers Jaguar have been paying a great deal of attention to ensuring that they don't make their debut in March without us all having some idea of what it means to be 'the big cat'. Even perennial backmarkers such as Minardi have a unique appeal. The little Italian team demonstrate year in and year out what they can do with a fraction of the budget enjoyed by the frontrunners, and it's hard not to admire their persistence and sheer doggedness in the face of seemingly ever-increasing odds. Irrespective of where their main allegiances lay, there were few F1 fans who did not cheer Gene's Minardi into the points at last year's European Grand Prix.

The 1998 'Tradition of Excellence' advertising campaign notwithstanding, BAR have devoted less of their efforts toward creating and maintaining their image than any of the other teams with aspirations to top the timesheets. It's little surprise then that it is they who tend to be found most lacking when examining the various team personalities. When one thinks of BAR, it's hard to conjure up any image other than that of a multinational corporation that went motor racing. For sure, this is by no means the first time that a company with no real motoring connection has entered F1 - look at Benetton, for example. But BAR came upon the scene with an air that rubbed many people - both fans and F1 insiders - up the wrong way; an attitude that seemed to suggest that everyone else - Tyrrell, the FIA, Bernie - had been doing everything the wrong all this time, and now they would see the error of their ways. It was an approach that did not go down well.

Needless to say, the team's performance in their debut season did little to help their cause - what was supposed to be a demonstration that a new team could draw together the necessary resources to fight superpowers on equal terms right from the word go instead turned out to be a reminder that when it comes to Formula One, man can not live by cash alone.

It is the nature of BAR's emergence into the Formula One scene that makes 'The Realisation of a Dream' such an intriguing book, for it reveals more about the nature of the marque than any other team biography that I have read for quite some time. Superficially, of course, the book is essentially a PR exercise for the team; an effort to show Craig Pollock and BAR - in that order - in the best possible light. I'd be almost certain that this work was commissioned by BAR themselves, and this is reflected both in the largely uncritical nature of the text, and the aspects of the team that are emphasized.

The cover - Craig Pollock front and center, Jacques Villeneuve's split-liveried machinery set slightly off to one side - quite neatly sets the scene for what is to follow. For a book that's supposed to be about the creation of a team, it's astounding just how heavily the emphasis is placed upon a few individuals. If the nature of the balance in 'The Realisation of a Dream' is anything to go by, it's no surprise that the team was facing a managerial crisis at the end of last year. Pollock is overwhelmingly the star of the book - far more so than any of the drivers, the cars, or the other team principals. Scarcely a page goes by without a shot - often staged, but intended to look candid - of Pollock going about his business.

We see him sitting rather stiffly in a lot of executive chairs. We see him watching himself on TV. We see him playing golf, hanging out with his kids, and rushing out the door of his apartment, on his way to another busy day as a team manager. We see him looking mildly embarrassed as he poses decked out in a kilt with a couple of golden retrievers and a large sword. We see him burning the midnight oil, toiling away at the BAR headquarters long after dark. (Which, given that he's in England, probably means that the shot was taken at about 16:30 on a January afternoon). We even see him standing there in his boxer shorts ironing his trousers.

Unfortunately, we don't see a lot else. Technical Director Adrian Reynard, Commercial Director Rick Gorne, and Chief Designer Malcolm Oastler all get their heads in from time to time, but if the balance of the coverage is anything to go by then there's little doubting who really wore the pants during BAR's first season. Except for when he was ironing them, that is.

The coverage of the drivers follows a similar pattern. Jacques Villeneuve is a regular feature right from the beginning, but it is not until page 76 that we see a glimpse of Ricardo Zonta.

This book covers the period from the team's inception to their debut at the 1999 Australian Grand Prix; so actual race coverage is virtually non-existent. Given that BAR fell rather short of their aims in their first season, this probably saves them some embarrassment. A number of significant events occurred during the team's creation though, and there were three in particular that I was looking forward to seeing covered in this book; these being the premature resignation of Ken Tyrrell, the cancellation of the team's maiden test session due to a lack of tyres, and the battle with the FIA over the right to run the cars in different liveries; the latter being coupled with the team's subsequent appearance before the governing body in Paris shortly after the Australian Grand Prix. Unfortunately, the first issue was mentioned at all. The tyre problem was discussed in reasonable detail, but perhaps the most telling of the three was the manner in which the livery controversy was handled.

The basic fact that the team was prevented from running their cars in separate liveries by the FIA was dealt with in just a few lines. Interestingly, the passage makes no reference to the fact that BAR actually appealed against the ruling. Much later - on the last full page of text, in fact - we learn that the team had to face the FIA in Paris on 12 March 1999 regarding "alleged rule breaches" (p. 135). The team was actually facing charges of bringing the sport into disrepute; an allegation that arose directly from their appeal to the European Commission. We're never told this in the book though, which is struck me as a little bizarre. Why include a quote from Pollock in which he says that the team has "apologized to the World Motor Sport Council for any misunderstanding concerning our actions" if we're not going to be told what he was actually apologizing for?

All up, I found 'The Realisation of a Dream' to be a fascinating read; and yet I didn't particularly enjoy it in the conventional sense. I guess it was interesting to me because it seemed to reinforce the image of the team that I had constructed during their first year of racing. Given that your perception of the team might well be different, there's every chance that you'll react to this book in a different way. There are elements of the book that would appeal to anybody; some of Giansanti's photographs, for example, are outstanding. Some of the basic historical information about the team's formation is also quite worthwhile, provided that you have the patience to wade through the PR gunk that seems omnipresent in these types of books. Personally, I honestly hope that BAR do well this year; largely because it is a shame to see two drivers of the caliber of Villeneuve and Zonta going to waste. And I believe that the team will do better, partly because they are intelligent enough to learn from last year's mistakes, and partly because it would take a monumental effort to have a worse year than 1999.

Although it was most certainly not the book's intention, 'The Realisation of a Dream' was a worthwhile read because it offered so many clues about why the team's debut season proved to be such a disappointment. While it may not appeal to everybody, the book has unwittingly become quite a valuable work in that it says a lot about an aspect of modern Formula One that is often left untouched. If you are keen to understand the full picture in Formula One, and have the patience to read between the lines a little, then this just might be a book worth checking out.

Mark Glendenning© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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