Book of the Week: Sharing the world of fame's fortunate prisoners

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The Independent Online
Formula One Uncovered - The Other Side of the Track

By Derick Allsop Headline, pounds 16.99, hardback

THEY PUT up with a fair amount, do the privileged few hundred of the Grand Prix circuit, as they parade, preen and prance within the protected confines of the paddock - Formula One's own goldfish bowl - where the business of racing and its concomitant daily routine is carried out under the awestruck, starstruck, gaze of the rubber-necking fans, craning and straining for a glimpse of the glamorous and the signature of their heroes. Even Hollywood stars such as Sylvester Stallone are restricted to walk-on parts in the paddock once the circus is in town.

But if the race drivers are prisoners of their own fame, you would never think it as you read this wonderfully documented book.

The paddock may be a confined area where the luxurious motor-homes provide the teams and the drivers with somewhere to eat, drink and be serious about their sport; it may well have a chainlink fence or whatever slung around it, and stewards and turnstiles to control who enters, but it is the people on the outside, pressing their faces against the barriers who appear to be imprisoned in an ordinary world.

Planet Formula One is as remote as Mars to the casual follower. There is a processional appearance to grands prix and obscene amounts of money are expended to keep this or that driver with this or that team, develop this or that car, and maintain a distance from the common man.

But, of course, the creatures inhabiting this world are only human. They have their ups and downs, and their spiteful spats. Indeed the waspishness of their observations on each other, be they driver on driver, driver on designer, driver on engineer, or driver on car (or everyone on everyone else), are probably the consequence of such confinement. They are also very amusing. To the poor, wealth means freedom. To the wealthy (in the paddock at least) it would appear to shackle, promoting paranoia, protectionism and partition.

Allsop captures all this and more in what is at times a gripping read. It is littered with cameos and characters as he deftly, but discreetly, documents the goings-on in the paddock. You peer over his shoulder as he chats to Michael Schumacher or Damon Hill and discover there is a lot more to these men. You cower each time the omnipotent, remote and somehow sinister figure of Bernie Ecclestone - Mr Formula One - flits across the pages.

There is so much going on among the portaloos, motorhomes and pits where rumours fly faster than the cars. You want to sample the offerings in the Ford motorhome where Di Spires and her husband, Stuart, together with their recruits Tracey and Graham Ogden, fuel the inner man. You want Minardi to make it big.

The whole thing about this book is that it gets you involved, with the rows, the crashes, the successes and the failures; the personalities and the posers. The problem is that when you have finished it, you want to stay involved. But you can't, because you're still on the outside.

David Llewellyn