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OCTOBER 12, 2004

Martin Brundle, Working the Wheel

Martin Brundle, Working the Wheel

By Martin Brundle with Maurice Hamilton

Ebury Press, hardback, 296pp, £18.99

ISBN 009190062X

In the early 1990s Bernie Ecclestone once referred to the midfield in Grand Prix racing as "Brundle, Blundell and Smundell". It was an uncharitable remark given that Martin Brundle was a driver who did just about everything in Formula 1, except winning a race. But for a freak transmission failure he would have won the Canadian Grand Prix in 1992 and only an unlucky call on a pit stop at Spa later that year deprived him of what might have been a second win. Martin had a long and distinguished F1 career with Tyrrell, Brabham, Zakspeed, Ligier, Williams, Benetton, McLaren and Jordan. He was Michael Schumacher's team mate at Benetton and Ayrton Senna's chief rival in British Formula 3. He was a World Champion sports car driver with Jaguar, a winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Daytona 24 Hours and was chairman of the British Racing Drivers' Club and the Grand Prix Drivers' Association. In addition to all of that he ran a succesful car dealership and today, in addition to being an accomplished and popular TV commentator with Britain's ITV, he is also David Coulthard's manager.

Martin had been racing for 12 years when I met him for the first time at a rain-sodden Monza in the spring of 1984. He was 24, I was 22. He had been a Grand Prix driver for at least a week and I was living in a tent, dreaming of one day becoming an F1 journalist. The reason I mention this is that our shared experiences over the years probably make me the wrong person to review this book because I remember so many of the anecdotes and I found myself remembering the good old days rather than analysing whether or not the stories will appeal to those who were not there. There is a lot of insight and some good writing, some of which I am sure came from his collaborator Maurice Hamilton but some of which undoubtedly is Martin himself because there are times when you can hear him saying the words you are reading. Martin captures the moments well. I remember only too well the feeling in the middle of the night at Le Mans in 1987 when Win Percy crashed a Jaguar on the Mulsanne; and how frightening it was at Adelaide in 1989 when the F1 driver were made to race in terrifying conditions.

Working the Wheel is Martin's first book and it is unusual because it is not really a biography (being a clever businessman he is no doubt saving that until later) and yet from it you learn a lot about Martin and his rivals. It is all packaged in a set of chapters about individual racing tracks. If you pick it up and see that do not be scared away by it because the book is much richer than that. Perhaps there is a little too much description of kerbs and corners but generally the balance is good. I suspect that one or two reviewers will mention that there are descriptions of a lot of accidents and one might be forgiven for renaming it "Martin Brundle's Greatest Hits" (and he has had a lot more than I remembered) but when all is said and done, it took me about three hours to read the whole thing and I did not want to put it down. I had learned a little more about Martin Brundle, a little more about the racing circuits and a little more about Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Bernie Ecclestone and the rest of them. Perhaps there are other places I would have added. Martin won the Daytona 24 Hours and that would have given him a good chance to tell some of the wonderful stories he tells about competing with the Good Old Boys of NASCAR one year when he raced in the IROC series. That would have made the book more interesting for the US audience as well.

I guess we will have to wait for the biography...