The Bookworm Critique
by Gerald Donaldson; Published by Collins Willow.
by Mark Glendenning,

Click here to buy this book I've always felt that team biographies occupy a strange place within the world of Formula One writing. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly (and I have mentioned this in the past), I suspect that, with one bright red exception, the majority of F1 fans would tend to support a favourite driver, rather than a favourite team. There is no way of proving this of course, except perhaps by checking the wardrobes of recent Ferrari converts to see if they have old Benetton flags hidden somewhere up the back.

The other reason is that the quality of the contents seem to be a lot more variable than other genres. At their best, Formula One team biographies offer genuine insights into the workings of the organisations that place so much on the line to go racing 16 times each year. At the other end of the spectrum, meanwhile, they are sometimes little more than a thinly disguised exercise in public relations. Depending upon which page you turn to, 'Teamwork' is a book which could have its feet planted in either camp.

According to the preface (written by team boss Ron Dennis), author Gerald Donaldson was granted full access to the team for two seasons, and enjoyed full co-operation from McLaren during the book's creation. The emphasis of 'Teamwork' is placed upon the individuals that make up the McLaren team, including the factory staff, the sponsors, the administration workers, and the race team. On one hand, this is really good - there is no doubting that Donaldson has been very thorough in his efforts to talk to representatives from all aspects of McLaren's operations. The happy result of this is that the reader is exposed to many elements of the team's activities that normally take place away from the public gaze, yet are no less crucial to McLaren's opportunities for success than the designers and drivers.

The downside though, is that virtually all of the people that Donaldson spoke to said exactly the same thing. The mantra "Ron Dennis is a great boss... McLaren is a great team... People think we're cold and clinical but we're really not... I'd never want to work anywhere else" is repeated throughout 'Teamwork' to such an extent that it becomes numbing. I don't want to suggest that what the team members are saying is not the case - I have never worked for McLaren, so I wouldn't know, besides, there is no reason to believe that the employees sentiments are anything less than sincere.

Unfortunately, the constant repetition ends up backfiring. As with anything, the more frequently these statements are repeated, the quicker their impact is diminished. Ultimately, it short-changes those who assisted Donaldson with the book, and the blame for this rests squarely on the shoulders of the author. It is a great piece of PR for the team - I'd imagine that the sponsors and other financial partners would love it - but it does little for the average reader. Dennis himself admits in his preface that he found certain passages in the book "somewhat embarrassing." The real shame is that the vast majority of the people that Donaldson spoke to probably had plenty of really interesting, insightful things to say. Why most of it (there are a few little gems sprinkled throughout the book) never made it to paper is a great mystery.

Content-wise, the most interesting section of the book is by far the sixth chapter, 'Grand Prix Weekend'. It's here more than anywhere else that Donaldson dispenses with the useless PR talk and gets down to business. From the armchair, it is easy to forget just how much sweat goes into each Grand Prix weekend, and Donaldson does an excellent job of reminding us. Blow-by-blow accounts of the workload that is endured by an F1 team during a race weekend are by no means new, but the fact that the reader has become familiar with the different personalities that are participating adds a new dimension.

On the surface, I'd imagine that this is a book that Ron Dennis would have only few problems with. It is presented in a manner reminiscent of the team itself - the cover and layout are professional, elegant, classy, and tasteful. There are a couple of minor glitches with the art direction - the caption for the double page spread on page 47 appears to be upside-down - but for the most part, it is, like the McLaren cars, very aesthetically pleasing. The photography is also generally excellent, though I was a little surprised by the shot that was selected to show the factory floor. Sure, the factory looks clean - you could almost perform surgery on it. But this particular photo makes the images of the abandoned Tyrrell factory look positively lively. Apart from a rather lonely-looking engine cover (and the cars which are visible in the carpark through the window), the McLaren factory looks absolutely desolate.

There are also a couple of minor inconsistencies in the writing itself which were a little irritating, particularly because they would have been so easy to fix. For example, some parts of the book were very obviously written before the team won the 1998 World Championships, and other section that were written later. This in itself is not a problem. It would have been nice, though, if the passages which refer to the team 'making good progress' through the 1998 season had been adjusted to reflect that McLaren had eventually emerged victorious.

This is a strange book, one that I am reluctant to recommend as either a must-read or a steer-clear. If you are interested in exactly what kind of people make up a Grand Prix team, then this might be worth a look. Donaldson provides a very comprehensive overview of who's who in McLaren, even is he does fail to get the best out of most of his subjects. The author seems particularly keen to remove himself from the book as much as possible (the exception being the 'here's me with Ron Dennis' photo on the last page), so 'Teamwork' is not the place to go if you are looking for any kind of critical analysis of the team or Formula One. This is a book that will look really impressive sitting in your bookshelf, and there are certainly elements of the contents that will appeal to almost anybody. Whether there is enough there to justify the purchase ultimately comes down to your own specific interests.

Mark Glendenning© 1999 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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