By Mark Glendenning, Australia
Autosport Atlas Writer
If I were the sort of person to keep a list of Guys I'd Like To See Write A Book, then Martin Brundle would have been on it.
After having the kind of career that lends weight to my belief that statistics are more or less pointless, Brundle has gone on to carve a very successful public life as a broadcaster on ITV, as well as no-doubt equally successful (but less public) gigs on the side as a driver manager and businessman. Not a lot of moss grows on Martin Brundle.
This collaboration with Maurice Hamilton takes the reader on a tour of the 'world's greatest race-tracks'. Lots of drivers have steered impressive machinery around places like Silverstone, Spa and Monza, but few are capable of telling you about it as eloquently as Brundle.
Those who watch ITV's Formula One feed will have a pretty good idea of what they are in for. Brundle has a gift for describing a circuit, or a part of a circuit, from the point of view of the driver to an extent that few before him have managed. Anybody can tell you that a certain corner can be tricky because the approach is blind and then it tightens on the exit, but Brundle goes further and gives you a sense of what it's like to try and feather the brakes properly while your feet are being bounced around the cockpit by bumps on the circuit. It's those elements of the driver's art that are invisible to TV cameras, but can potentially have very real repercussions on a laptime.
In short, Brundle is one of those guys who reminds you that you are about as third as smart as you think you are, and yet he manages to do it in a way that is entertaining rather than condescending. When you're dealing with a guy who has websites dedicated to memorialising his commentary highlights for all time, you know you're in good hands.
That said, the concept behind 'Working The Wheel' is slightly flawed. Getting a guy like Brundle to talk you around the 'world's greatest race-tracks' seems like a good idea, but the downside is that you are obviously restricted to circuits that he has raced on. Given that his F1 career ended in 1996, that means that you can find out all sorts of stuff about tracks that aren't used in F1 anymore (Argentina, Rio, Adelaide and Detroit, for example), and nothing on newer Tilke-fests like the A1 Ring, Shanghai, Sepang and Bahrain.
I know that I'm whining a bit here - that's what happens when I write columns before I've had my morning coffee. And if you were to name the world's greatest modern circuits, then places like Brands Hatch and the Adelaide street circuit (which still exists for Australia's V8 Supercar series, albeit in a different configuration) would probably get a mention. So would Paul Ricard - even though nobody races there, it is surely one of the greatest testing facilities on the planet.
But if you want to be really picky, you could also point out that not all of the 'world's greatest race-tracks' are F1 circuits. Road America and Bathurst are two examples that spring immediately to mind.
Essentially then, what we've got is his view of the Grand Prix circuits used between 1984 and 1996, with Le Mans thrown in as a bonus. Not all of them are what you might consider 'great', particularly when you view them against what has been left out. But Brundle goes a fair way toward compensating for this in the way that he explains the features that characterise the circuit from a driver's point of view, and highlighting the boxes that need to be ticked if you are going to crank out a respectable laptime there.
I've been fortunate enough to be able to drive a few open-wheelers myself. I wasn't particularly fast, but the experience was enough to give me an appreciation of how much there is that can only be learned about a racetrack when your bum is whizzing along an inch or two above it at high speed. Brundle has a great ability to explain that to the reader, and this helped him to keep me sucked in even when he was talking about one of the less glorious tracks to have graced the F1 calendar.
He helps his cause further with a nice sprinkling of anecdotal and technical information, which means that in just one page you can learn about why a punctured tyre can retain its shape at high speed and how to overdose on meat in Brazil. That's my kind of book.
Another of Brundle's strengths is that his analytical skills can shed new light on old arguments. For example, after reading and hearing all sorts of lamentations about how modifications to Imola had 'ruined' the circuit, it was refreshing to read a different take on it:
"The approach to the Tamburello chicane remains very fast, as does the exit. In between, there are hefty kerbs, which now characterise Imola to such an extent that, if your car cannot deal with these kerbs, you will never set a competitive time. The Tamburello chicane is a similar layout to Villeneuve. In each case, they have taken away a flat-out, top-gear curve, where the driver was in the lap of the gods, and put in a challenge. I'm very comfortable with that." (p. 59).
'Working The Wheel' is like an F1 highlight reel, a post-race debriefing, and a beer in a pub with a mate all rolled into one. There aren't many guys who can blend Brundle's experience with the ability to talk about it so engagingly, so when one lands in your lap like this then you should make the most of it. Go and check it out.