The Bookworm Critique

by Russell Hotten; Published by Orion Business Books
by Mark Glendenning,

Click here to buy this book Somebody once remarked that modern Formula One is only a sport for two hours every second Sunday. The rest of the time, it's a business. This shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone - commercialism is infiltrating all sports at an amazing rate, and the high-tech, high-risk, and glamorous nature of F1 makes it a prime candidate for the attention of somebody with a message to get across, and a lot of money with which to do it.

That being the case, the only unusual thing about the idea of a book that focuses on the financial aspects of Formula One is that it took so long for somebody to actually get around to writing it. 'Formula One: The Business of Winning' examines the relationship between F1 and ungodly amounts of money from a variety of perspectives, including those of the sponsors, drivers, and team owners. On the surface, this would appear to be a fairly simple relationship - OK, I'm the team owner, you're the sponsor, you give me lots of money, I'll give a bit to Johnny Wonderful who has to drive the thing, and we'll spend the rest on trying to sort out that aero problem. If all goes well, Mr. Wonderful will be on the podium in every race, your stickers on the car will get lots of TV coverage, and people will be fighting each other to buy your products.

The reality is not quite so straightforward. The nature of sponsorship arrangements can vary to a huge degree, and are subject to a range of influences that could include anything from the personality of the team principals, to the particular characteristics of the sponsors themselves. If you've always been fascinated by the 'non-sport' aspects of Formula One, then this book will probably seem like a godsend. It is certainly very comprehensive, and I'd be surprised if anybody who is interested in all things fiscal but doesn't actually know much about them found 'The Business of Winning' to be a disappointment.

Tread carefully though. The blurb on the back cover can trumpet on about 'exclusive interviews with the sport's movers and shakers' all it likes, but in reality it would appear that much of the book is based upon secondary research. The material is derived from a wide variety of sources, many of which are readily available to the public. This should immediately sound alarm bells if the commercial side of Formula One is something you're really passionate about, because there's an excellent chance that you'll be having little deja vu episodes all the way through 'The Business of Winning'.

To be honest, the financial side of Formula One is probably the aspect of racing that interests me least. I don't care how much wheeling and dealing goes on - so long as I have a race to watch every fortnight, I'm happy. I'll read articles and books about that element of the sport if I chance upon them, but they are not the kind of thing that I seek out. Bearing that in mind, even I was having little trouble picking out many of the sources upon which Hotten had based his information. On occasion, it seemed that Hotten did not even try to cover his tracks. One section, for example, was immediately recognisable as most probably having been based on a magazine article published two years ago. Page 174 of 'The Business of Winning' reads:

"Hype's fluorescent name was unmissable along the side of the Williams Renault FW19..."

The June 1997 issue of the Australian edition of F1 Racing ran an article by Nick Bagot, entitled 'Believe the Hype'. On page 88 of the magazine (the page number might be different in the British and other editions of F1 Racing), Bagot says:

"Hype is an energy drink whose logos currently adorn the 'barge boards' on Frank Williams' FW19 (fluorescent orange and yellow - you can't miss them)."

Further down page 174 of 'The Business of Winning', we read:

"In essence, Hype's strategy was to 'pretend' it was a big brand, which would lay the foundations for a world-wide launch on the drinks market.... Hype wanted to move fast, so the 'big' image helped open doors. Breaking into overseas markets is a tough job, and a link-up with a top Formula One team acted as a sort of advance guard in countries where Hype was about to launch its product."

Meanwhile, on page 88 in the magazine, Bagot tells us that:

"Hype have used F1 to 'pretend' that they are big (there is a perception that small companies don't go into F1), which has made it easier for Harris to open doors that might otherwise have remained shut. It's not easy to break into foreign markets and gain the trust of local distributors, but their involvement with one of the world's biggest sports has given Harris considerable extra clout." (David Harris is the managing director of Hype).

There is no mention of the article, or of Bagot, anywhere in the body of the text or in the acknowledgements. It's possible that Bagot may have been one of those to whom Hotten registers his thanks, but 'preferred to remain nameless'. It's also possible that the remarkable similarity between the two texts is a coincidence. If Hotten did indeed base this part of his book upon Bagot's article, though, then it suggests to me a clear sign of laziness on the behalf of the author. While primary research is always preferable to secondary information, there is nothing inherently wrong with studying other people's work. Out of respect for both the original author and the intended audience, though, I would expect the researcher to rework and adapt the information to suit their own needs when the time comes to write it all up. If the 'Hype' example in 'The Business of Winning' was based to some extent on Bagot's article, then I don't believe that Hotten made a sufficient effort to do this, and it is disappointing.

'The Business of Winning' is not so much a Formula One book about the financial world as it is a commerce book about Formula One. Or at least, that is how it seemed to me. I was not previously familiar with the author and was unable to find any other work that he may have published. Nor was I able to uncover much about the publisher, although the name 'Orion Business Books' appears to confirm that Hotten was approaching F1 through fiscally tinted glasses (whatever colour that might be), rather than the other way around.

This is more relevant than it might seem, because the book left me with an overwhelming sense that Hotten's knowledge of Formula One was pretty much limited to what he picked up while writing it. While that is not a problem when the author is dealing with a commercial issue (which, in fairness, is most of the book), he does seem a bit out of his depth when discussing the racing aspects of the sport.

For example, Hotten tends to indulge in a considerable amount of over-simplification when discussing some of the key events and issues that have shaped Formula One over the last couple of seasons. An example of this is the manner in which he deals with the controversial 'fixed' finishes in Jerez 1997 and Melbourne 1998. Jerez in particular was a highly complicated situation, one that even seasoned Formula One observers had trouble dissecting properly.

You had Villeneuve nursing a potentially fragile car; there was the issue of Williams and McLaren fighting the FIA over the Concorde Agreement; and then there was the ethical problem regarding Ferrari's rights to record another team's radio transmissions. Add to this the question of whether Ferrari was using the 'team collusion' issue to deflect attention from the Schumacher/Villeneuve incident (and if so, they remained conspicuously quiet about the Ferrari-engined Saubers making life difficult for Villeneuve when he was lapping them), and the whole problem suddenly starts looking immensely complicated. Allowing just one sentence to summarise the whole race, then, seems hopelessly inadequate and ill informed.

There are also a few errors scattered through the book. There are many words that could be used to describe Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo, for example, but 'blond' is not one of them. Also strange was the comment that one of the Stewarts failed to qualify for the 1998 Australian Grand Prix. I was there, and I remember seeing two white-and-tartan liveried cars line up for the start. Barrichello suffered a mechanical problem on the grid, and Magnussen retired a couple of laps later, but both cars definitely qualified. There are a few spelling mistakes too, (eg. Heinz Harold Frentzen, Norber Haug), most of which seem to be located within the same few pages toward the end of the book.

'Formula One: The Business of Winning' is not as terrible as I have probably made it sound. People who possess some interest in the relationship between Formula One and the world of commerce, but do not actually know all that much about it, will no doubt find this book fascinating. Although it seems to be largely based on earlier publications, it is handy to have all this information compiled into one volume. And despite the flaws that I have already mentioned, the book is cohesively written and well organised. Certainly, it is a book that I will no doubt find myself referring to in the future. I'd be a little wary if you already know a lot about this side of motor racing though, because many passages in the book will probably seem a little too familiar to make the purchase worthwhile.

Mark Glendenning© 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.
Send comments to: Terms & Conditions

Want to buy this book? Click here. What to buy a different F1 book? Click here.