“Behind the scenes”, “the inside story”: many F1 books promise a warts-and-all account of the sport. Marc Priestley’s “The Mechanic” is one of few which delivers.
Following the footsteps of Alf Francis in the fifties and Steve Matchett in the nineties, the former McLaren mechanic gives a rare and frank account of this little-seen world.
As was the case with Matchett’s first book on the 1994 F1 season, Priestly offers a first-hand account of one of the sport’s most seismic controversies. In this case it’s the Spygate row which rocked the championship ten years ago, saw McLaren excluded from the championship and fined a staggering $100 million for acquiring and using Ferrari intellectual property.
But if that meets your definition of improper behaviour you will gain an entirely new perspective from Priestley’s outrageous tales of debauchery, drug-taking and – in one particularly appalling anecdote – defecation.
There will be many people who wish this book hadn’t been published and quite a few of them will work in Woking. So it’s no great surprise that names are used sparingly in places.
As a consequence it doesn’t convey quite the same sense of how a team operates in the way Matchett’s books did. It’s a pity that an account written by one of those too-often unknown characters, which racing drivers habitually refer to as ‘the guys’, doesn’t introduce us to more of them. But the alcohol-fueled mayhem which unfolds in its pages leave you wondering how the author managed to recall anything of the period at all.
Priestley is quick to take responsibility of his share of the blame for what went well beyond youthful hi-jinks. His occasional brushes with authority following these escapades is recalled with a degree of tension which feels somewhat forced and left me feeling sceptical whether he genuinely feared for his career as deeply as the reader is led to believe.
The crazy extremes of working for an F1 team in the 2000s extended beyond trashed hotel rooms. Priestly lifts the lid on the staggeringly wasteful excesses which were indulged in the pursuit of performance, such as chartering a helicopter in a vain attempt to dry a strip of damp track.
During his McLaren career he worked closely with the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen. The latter, one of F1’s most notoriously inscrutable characters, figures heavily in some of Priestley’s most entertaining stories.
The final third of the book is dominated by his first-person perspective of McLaren’s traumatic 2007 season. Given the controversy which erupted between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso that year it is fascinating to read an account from a team member who was not assigned to either side of the garage.
That alone is worth the cover price. Beyond that, “The Mechanic” is not just a compelling read you want to put down until you’ve finished, it may completely change how you look at Formula One.
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The Mechanic: The Secret World of the F1 Pit Lane
Author: Marc Priestley
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press
Published: 2nd November 2017
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