Atlas F1

The Bookworm Critique
"Formula One Uncovered:
The Other Side of the Track"

by Derick Allsop; Published by Headline.
by Mark Glendenning,

It would be fair to say that the average Formula One fan's chance of gaining access to the F1 Paddock during a race weekend is only marginally better than that of coming home to find a message on the answering machine saying "Hi, this is Ron Dennis. We need to test a new suspension system, but all our drivers are in bed with chickenpox. So if you could pop down to the track and shake the car down for us, that would be great. How does Tuesday sound?" As long as this remains the case, books like Derick Allsop's "Formula One Uncovered: The Other Side of the Track" will always be welcomed. The book follows the F1 circus from country to country and attempts to give the reader some idea of how each round of the season unfolds on the other side of the chain-link fence.

Veteran Formula One writer Nigel Roebuck once wrote: "Unbiased journalism, if it exists at all, is doubtless terribly worthy. But it sends me to sleep." This quote was the first thing that sprang to mind when I finished reading this book. Allsop takes the fly-on-the-wall approach to 'Formula One Uncovered'. I can appreciate his reasons for this - he seems to be trying to remove himself from the book as much as possible and represent the world of the F1 Paddock just as it is. Unfortunately, the end result struck me as being a little bit dry. Allsop has been writing about F1 for almost 20 years, and I couldn't help but feel that maybe the book would have been more effective if he had allowed a little more of himself and his experience show through. It should be remembered, though, that these types of criticisms are governed more by personal taste than anything else, so it's quite possible that I'm on my own with this one.

The blurb states that the book follows the "fortunes of the 1998 season." And it does. Almost. With the exception of Suzuka, none of the flyaway races are covered. Australia, Argentina and Brazil each receive a total of one sentence, one after the other, in the introduction. Canada does a little better - it earns itself a couple of paragraphs. No reason for the exclusions is given - presumably the author was only present at the European races and Japan. While it is unreasonable to expect the author to fly himself around the world at his own expense, the omissions were a little disappointing. For example, I for one would have loved to have known what the atmosphere in the Melbourne paddock was like after the teams arrived with the fruits of a great deal of work and sleep deprivation during the off-season, only be comprehensively blown away by the McLarens.

A great deal of the book consists of interviews with various F1 personnel, and this is by far its strongest point. I was worried that the book might be a little top-heavy, i.e. lots and lots of McLaren and Ferrari and not all that much on Minardi and Arrows. Happily, this is not the case. Members of every team are given a decent amount of coverage and the overall balance that results makes 'Formula One Uncovered' equally appealing to any fan, irrespective of where their allegiances lie. Treatment of each team and driver is reasonably even-handed, too. Nobody is deified, and nobody receives a roasting. Allsop prefers to allow each interview to speak for itself, and it is up to the readers to make what they will of each interviewee.

I particularly liked the range of people which were interviewed. If you have ever wondered exactly what it's like to provide meals for an entire F1 team, sponsors, guests, and, apparently, journalists - this is the place to find out. The only group which struck me as being under-represented in the interviews were the 'regular' team members. I can't be the only person who has watched a race on TV and wondered what it's like to actually participate in a pit stop. Allsop does not ignore this aspect of F1 completely - there is a great interview with Martin Pople, who spent 1998 as a tyre man for Arrows, for example. Personally, however, I would have liked to see a bit more of it.

It is hard to pick the highlights amongst the interviews, because most of them really are very good. The chat with Harvey Postlethwaite, whom the F1 world so sadly lost last week, is brilliant. Particularly interesting is Postlethwaite's take on the imminent death of the Tyrrell team, as is his description of his years with Ferrari. He also relates hysterically funny anecdote to Gilles Villeneuve. Others which are worthy of note are the interviews with Arrows media director, Ann Bradshaw, and the Herbie Blash / Charlie Whiting double header. Moving on, the Nostradamus award goes to Dave Richards for his comment: "I want a team that actually doesn't need me there." The more sadistic amongst you, meanwhile, will no doubt love the Ricardo Rosset 'I really am much faster than everybody thinks' interview.

All up, 'Formula One Uncovered' is a pretty good read. It is not particularly demanding, but I don't think it is intended to be. Most of the criticism that I have made are fairly minor, and more importantly, are based largely on my personal taste. The wide range of subjects covered, coupled with the balanced matter in which they are done so, results in a book which could be enjoyed by pretty much anybody who is interested in knowing about day-to-day life in F1. Don't go in expecting any great revelations as far as drivers are concerned - Allsop is a journalist, and the drivers don't tell him any more than you would expect them to when they are dealing with the press - but there is enough other material in there to make up for it.

Mark Glendenning© 1999 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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