Atlas F1

The Bookworm Critique
"Against the Odds: Jordan's Drive to Win"
by Jon Nicholson & Maurice Hamilton;
Published by Macmillan.
by Mark Glendenning,

This book sat on my bedside table for several days before I dared to do anything more than eye it suspiciously. 'Against the odds' is one of those 'exclusive insights behind the scenes of a Formula One team' books. The last publication of this type to pass through my hands received a decidedly less than favourable review. On the surface, 'Against the odds' gave me a number of reasons to suspect that we might be in for more of the same.

One of my major criticisms of the last book from this genre that I reviewed was that there was a lot of space devoted to the almost religious devotion that the author felt toward the team's number one driver, while information or insights relating to the team itself were few and far between. It was with a good deal of skepticism, therefore, that I examined the book's cover - a picture of Damon Hill, surrounded by more pictures of Damon Hill, with a couple of shots of mechanics thrown in for good measure. Where's Ralf? Oh there he is - on the back, far left. Next to the picture of Damon. The fact that the book's author Maurice Hamilton, and photographer, Jon Nicholson, have been involved in a number of Damon Hill books in the past only added to the general sense of foreboding.

Now. Here's the really good bit. I could not have been more wrong. Whoever came up with the saying 'you can't judge a book by its cover' must have been holding this work in their hands at the time. This is quite simply one of the most interesting, well written Formula One books to come out in the last few years. Nicholson and Hamilton have produced a behind-the-scenes look at Jordan's rollercoaster 1998 season, written with the blessings of the team themselves. From the highs of Belgium - when Hill and Ralf Schumacher picked up a 1-2 on a day when all the other teams were lucky to leave with a repair bill under seven figures, to the lows of Monaco - when the drivers would probably have been more competitive in their road cars, it's all here.

Jordan were very generous with the access granted to the authors and credit must go to both the team for allowing the writers to continue their work no matter how things were going, and to Nicholson and Hamilton for making the most of it. The best aspect of this book is that the reader develops a great sense of how a Formula One team reacts to difficult times as well as great ones, and this is all due to the extent to which the journalists and Jordan co-operated.

Hamilton also has a great ability to find really fascinating material in non-obvious places. There are lots of examples throughout the book, but I was particularly interested in the sections that dealt with the re-invention of the Jordan image, which ranges from the snake and hornet logos that adorn the nose cones, to the new colour scheme that was introduced in 1997. Especially great was the description of a meeting between Eddie Jordan and representatives of Benson & Hedges, and advertising agency M&C Saatchi, where the final approval was to be given to the car's livery. I'm not going to give too much away, but let's just say that this passage relates what is probably one of the very few occasions when EJ has been rendered speechless...

It was also intriguing to follow the way that the circumstances which lead to Ralf's departure to Williams for 1999 unfolded. I have read about driver trades many times in the past, but this is the first account which gave me some idea of how complex the whole process really is. This is particularly true with regard to the various factors which motivated the parties involved to take the actions that they did, such as the lawsuit between Ralf and the team, or the extent to which Ralf's decisions were influenced by his brother.

Another big plus for 'Against the odds' is that the photography is absolutely brilliant. I tend to find that the photos in F1 books have a general sense of sameness about them - here's driver one, here's number two, here's the car, the team director, a bunch of fans with a banner etc., etc. And for sure, all that stuff is in here. But Nicholson takes it further. Whether the shot depicts a mechanic sitting on a nose cone, or a bunch of guys trying to squeeze the car through the back doors of London's Royal Albert Hall for the 1998 launch, they all compliment the text perfectly, with the result that the reader is left feeling that they have some idea of what life in F1 is like away from the TV cameras. There are also several shots which are there purely for their aesthetic value, such as one which depicts a reflection in the pit building window of the Jordan 198 screaming down the main straight. Great stuff. The photos in this book even caught the attention of my non-F1 friends (poor, ignorant souls that they are).

Negative points? There really are not all that many. If you were to be really picky, you could probably say that Damon enjoys a little bit more of the spotlight than Ralf throughout the book. The imbalance really is not too great however (unless, perhaps, we are talking about the photos), and there is certainly more than enough in here to satisfy any Ralf Schumacher fan. Aside from that, I was a little disappointed that the story more or less ended with Belgium. I would have liked to have followed the team right up to Japan. This is partly because it would have been interesting to see the extent to which the maiden win at Spa affected the team during the rest of the season. The main reason, though, is that I simply didn't want this book to end.

Mark Glendenning© 1999 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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