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'Life in the Fast Lane' by Steve Matchett - Kindle Review // An insight into the inner workings of champion team Benetton

Published by Christine

Steve Matchett has been part of the Formula One world since 1990, and has experience in most sides of the business. From mechanic, to engineer, to broadcaster and journalist - Matchett has seen and heard a lot in his travels. Famed for his Chalk Talk series on SpeedTV, he excels at explaining the tricky technical topics to the armchair F1 fan. He has written a trilogy of books about his time in F1, and Life in the Fast Lane is the first of the three.

There may be trouble ahead

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Life in the Fast Lane guides us through one single year in the company of Steve Matchett as mechanic for the championship-winning Benetton team. With each chapter representing a new month of the year, we start in January and discover at what state the team are in, and how they're approaching the 1994 season. Through the twists and turns of the season, we end in December, where Matchett finally has time to finish writing his book and welcomes in the new year with a toast.

There are plenty of highs and lows to be covered through the year, though, as 1994 was one of the most tragic and troublesome seasons Formula One has ever seen. Matchett covers all the difficulties surrounding Michael Schumacher and a black flag, he talks candidly about the refuelling flash fire that occurred on Jos Verstappen's car, and briefly touches upon Ayrton Senna's death. As Steve quite rightly says, that race in Imola was just too personal to go into too much detail.

Throughout the book, though, Matchett doesn't shy away from any subject and is very honest about his own feelings about situations - even where they differ from the teams.

Apparently people wanted Formula One to be portrayed as a Drivers' Championship, not a Constructors' Championship. I found this argument both sad and very frustrating. To me, Formula One represents the pinnacle of mechanical engineering. It is a constant battle between the abilities of rival teams and the laws of physics, to produce the ultimate in engineering excellence. It is for this aim that I and many others spend so much of our lives building, testing and racing our cars.

- Life in the Fast Lane by Steve Matchett

Matchett's writing is smooth and clear, guiding you through the months easily. Transitions between subjects are done really well and there were no jarring moments that jogged you out of the narrative.

Going deeper

At the start of the book, there's some great insight into how the team go about testing - their daily routine and the different conditions you might find at Silverstone versus Jerez. I found this fascinating, particularly as we don't get too much test coverage elsewhere.

However, as the book progressed there did seem to be quite a lot of detail included that I could have done without. There was a lot of jumping in and out of the shower, and plenty of very specific alarm calls. There's only so many times we need to hear about the hotel routine, I reckon. It's only a mild irritant, though, and worth sticking with because the off-track moments give you some great insight into the drivers as well.

On the final night of our stay in Jerez, Michael took the whole team out to dinner. This was a nice gesture and is something that he likes to do quite often. He sees it as a way of thanking everyone for the effort put into preparing the car for him and it is appreciated by us all I think.

'Order whatever you would like,' he told us, 'the bill will be kept open all night!' We were still there, lounging back in the chairs, drinking and chatting long after Michael had gone to bed.

- Life in the Fast Lane by Steve Matchett

There's a lot of serendipity gone into this book. Matchett couldn't have known that he would be part of the crew working on a championship winning car when he started making notes in early January. He couldn't have known there would be so many accidents to talk about, and so many pit lane incidents that affected him personally. It could have worked out to be a very dull (and short!) tale.

Thankfully, that couldn't be further from the truth, and I found it an interesting and engaging read from start to finish. It's a viewpoint we don't get to see much of, and although some of the F1 technology has moved on and changed, the main philosophies are all still there.

Summary

Book information
TitleLife in the Fast Lane
AuthorSteve Matchett
PublisherOrion
Published19 May 2011
File size3141 KB
ISBN1409137054
ASINB004ZKVFFK

Brilliantly written, with a great (and lucky!) concept and plenty of thoughtful anecdotes. The level of detail about each race is well balanced - not lap by lap but enough to give you a sense of how the season is going.

There are small paragraphs that share Matchett's technological knowledge, but ultimately it's the story of a mechanic and his team as they wind their way to picking up a Formula One championship.

Rated: 5 out of 5

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