Atlas F1

The Bookworm Critique
by Jane Nottage; Published by CollinsWillow.
by Mark Glendenning,

Hands up if you have experienced the disappointment of opening a "Kinder Surprise" chocolate egg and finding a jigsaw inside. It really is a letdown - something that promised so much (you can never have too many small plastic penguins with moveable bits) delivered so little. After all, what use is an 8-piece jigsaw of a cartoon chipmunk to anybody? Jane Nottage's "Ferrari: The Passion and the Pain" left me with a similar feeling. The book's blurb promises a unique and in-depth behind-the-scenes look at Formula One's most famous name, with the focus being placed upon the Schumacher era. The reality, however, is somewhat different.

Nottage enjoyed privileged access to the team over the past few seasons. Potentially, this offered the opportunity to produce what could have been a really interesting, insightful, and revealing work. There is no doubt that Ferrari are an enigma in the motor racing world, and any unbiased attempt to seriously investigate the various elements which make the team what it is would surely produce fascinating results. Instead, Nottage has created what amounts to little more than an extended display of hero-worship, not too far removed from what one often finds on fan-created Ferrari / Schumacher websites.

Early in the book, the author refers to the creation of the Ferrari myth, but then proceeds to devote the entire work to perpetuating it. The book is littered with romantic references to these scarlet machines carrying the hopes of Italy and a decent chunk of the rest of the world around the track with them.

Furthermore, Nottage sticks unwaveringly to the Ferrari party line right throughout the book, never offering any independent thought or criticism of the team or drivers. Responsibility for the Schumacher-Coulthard incident at Spa in 1998, for example, is laid squarely upon the Scot's shoulders. The three-way accident between Fisichella and the Schumacher brothers at the Luxembourg GP in 1997, meanwhile, is quietly written off as a "racing incident".

So intent is Nottage on convincing her audience that Ferrari are truly supreme, her observations often come across as contemptuous when she is referring to other teams and drivers. A shining example of this is when the author is describing Schumacher driving out of the pitlane and straight into Frentzen in Canada, 1998. The accident is quickly dismissed as a racing incident, because Schumacher apparently didn't see the Williams - a fairly flimsy argument, but the sentiment of Michael being beyond blame is in line with the rest of the book. More disturbing is Nottage's referral to Frentzen as being "unamused at being unceremoniously woken up as he trudged around the track"(p.210). The fact he was actually set to score a few points from the race is apparently deemed irrelevant.

On some occasions, events that could not help but show Schumacher and Ferrari in a poor light are left out altogether. One which stood out in particular was Schumacher's appearance before the FIA following Jerez in 1997 - although it was massive news in the Formula One world at the time, and must have had a considerable impact upon both Schumacher and his team, it did not rate a single mention in the book.

Similarly tainted is the context in which Nottage reproduces several of the quotes from team members, who end up sounding far more arrogant than they would probably have intended. Such idolisation by an author of their subject is irritating at the best of times, but when Nottage starts referring to Schumacher as "wonderboy" (p.85), or "Superman Schumacher" (p.178), it becomes sickening.

Amazingly, Nottage manages to take it further still, bestowing Schumacher with magical qualities when describing the lead-up to the 1998 season: "Schumacher, with his precise prediction powers, thought that Ferrari's main rival would be McLaren" (p.181). Nottage herself stated that McLaren were widely expected to do well in 1998, so why Schumacher had to call on his 'precise prediction powers' to state the obvious is something of a mystery.

Over-reliance on quotes from Ferrari personnel is another problem that plagues the book. Rather than write something herself, Nottage frequently settles for some remark from a team member, resulting in piles upon piles of superfluous, superficial waffle. Not a great deal of information or insight can be gleaned from quotes such as "the start will be very important" (Michael Schumacher). Some of the other quotes needed either clarification or paraphrasing. For example, "I'm not worried about the race, but I am worried that the brakes won't last the race" (Giorgio Ascanelli, p.40), comes across as somewhat contradictory and confusing.

This leads to my final and in many ways most serious criticism of this work. The whole book feels as if it was rushed (which is not surprising, given that it carries a full description of the 1998 season but still made it onto the shelves before the end of the year). The book suffers from an apparent lack of proper proofreading and editing. If that's not bad enough, much of the writing itself is sloppy. Sentences are frequently clumsy and excessively lengthy, and words are occasionally represented incorrectly ('intact' is one word, not two).

There is also an unacceptable amount of repetition of words, phrases, and events. (How many times do we need to be told that after the departure of John Barnard, the full design program was shifted back to Maranello, rather than being split between Italy and the UK?) Again, I am inclined to put this down to a lack of attention once the drafts were finished, rather than incompetence on the part of the author.

The book does have some good moments, though. Nottage's account of Schumacher's appointment to have his seat fitted was enjoyable, as was her description of the team's efforts to restrain Schumacher in the pitlane following his collision with Coulthard in Belgium last year. There were also a number of quotes that were genuinely interesting and insightful, particularly Nigel Stepney's description of the team's desire to reward Irvine's loyalty with a win.

These positive points, however, only serve to illustrate further the problems inherent in the rest of the book. If you are a die-hard fan of the prancing horse, and believe that the sun shines out of Michael Schumacher's proverbial orifice, then you will love this book, as it will reflect everything that you already believe. If you are after a genuinely in-depth, impartial, well thought-out examination of the most passionately supported team in motor racing, then unfortunately you would probably need to keep looking.

Mark Glendenning 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.
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