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Praise for Overdrive: Formula 1 in the Zone

Maurice Hamilton (The Observer)
“Clyde Brolin clearly has impeccable contacts and the respect of the racing community, judging by 100 interviews with top drivers.”

Simon Briggs (The Daily Telegraph)
“Overdrive is insightful and leaves you with a fresh perspective on F1 - which is exactly what Senna experienced in Monaco all those years ago.”

Mark Hughes (Autosport)
“Brolin took years researching the book and he deserves to be rewarded. Buy it!”

Dr Gordon McCabe (McCabism website)
“Overdrive is a unique and fabulous work. The author has extracted a gripping collection of lucid recollections from the most famous names in motorsport that should be treated as a treasure-trove for psychologists and neuroscientists.”

Damien Smith (Motor Sport magazine)
“The most original motor racing book of 2010? Without a doubt.”

Julie Gueguen (Formula One Fans Association)
“Overdrive pictures racing drivers as profoundly human, sometimes mystical men who agree a perfect lap is what justifies years of sacrifice and self-discipline. Not the champagne, the trophy, the title and glory...”

Laurence Edmondson (ESPNF1.com)
“There are brilliant descriptions of the Zone, notably darts player Bobby George: ‘Like having a thousand starlings flying out of you’re a*******…’”

Robert Bailey (Robbiemeister website)
“Easy to read and constantly drawing you on to the next page, this is essential reading for anyone interested in sport and human performance. If you’re a racing driver you should have already read it.”

Dan Cross (Motorsport Musings website)
“Fascinating as it is thought-provoking, Overdrive is no ordinary sports book. It has clearly been a labour of love for the author and his passion for the subject shines through on every page.”

Filip Cleeren (funstillexists.com – March 19, 2012)

Saturday 14 May 1988. In his dominant McLaren Honda, Ayrton Senna puts down a seemingly impossible qualifying lap for the Monaco Grand Prix. Nearly a second and a half quicker than his team-mate Alain Prost. Third-placed Gerhard Berger is the only other driver within three (!) seconds of the Brazilian.

Senna admitted his lap was everything as extraordinary inside the car is it looked on the timesheets. In a famous interview with Gerald Donaldson, a stunned Senna explained he had a trance-like experience, looking down on himself as he conquered the Monte Carlo streets like no one had ever done before.

That revelation served as the inspiration for Overdrive: Formula 1 in the Zone, a book by journalist and devoted Senna fan Clyde Brolin. Brolin investigated the psychological aspects of racing on the very edge of what's physically and mentally possible. He discovered Senna wasn't the only one to experience surreal effects inside the cockpit of a racing car.

Senna's example inspired a generation of current drivers like Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, who told the author they too had similar experiences and actively try to reach the Zone and replicate a state of mind where limits are not absolute and time slows down. Inner peace at 300 kilometres per hour. Even legend Stirling Moss made trips to the Zone, but such a supreme state of consciousness is not just restricted to racing drivers. During his many years of research, Brolin collected the thoughts of many other top-level athletes and even musicians, revealing that the Zone might be accessible to all of us.

Overdrive is unique because it explores the unexplored and treads a controversial path few have had the courage and determination to go before. It ticks all the boxes of what non-fiction is about. Not only does it entertain and inform, but it will change the way you look at motor racing and top-level sport achievements forever. As such Overdrive is not just a must-read for the racing fan, but for anyone interested in exploring the boundaries of the human psyche.

A biker's perspective (Vroom magazine – June 26, 2011)

Ever wondered what goes through a rider’s mind when he keeps on doing one perfect lap after another? Or how he still manages to react to every tiny movement of the bike when everything starts going blurry around him at over 330kph? Chances are when you see a rider doing an outstanding job on track, he’s “in the Zone“, a flow state which Clyde Brolin intensively and extensively deals with in his excellent debut book Overdrive – Formula 1 in the Zone.

Brolin starts his exploration of this elusive and yet multi-present state with one significant event: Ayrton Senna’s perfect run in qualifying at Monaco in 1988. The now legendary Senna completely blitzed the competition, going much faster than anyone else even dared to. He later admitted that he felt he “was no longer driving the car consciously” and as soon as he realised that, he went back to the pits, frightened to go back out. He was almost 1.5 seconds ahead of his teammate and an astonishing 2.7 seconds ahead of the rest. In other words: He was out of this world.

In times when the motorcycle media repeatedly talks about the “Aliens” in MotoGP, who seem to be a step above the rest, this might sound familiar to you. But what is it that separates those riders from the mere “mortal“ rest of the grid?

Putting aside the semantic irrelevance of the term itself, there might be more to that difference than just better material. The specific state that Brolin describes in Overdrive allows an athlete – no matter if on four, two or no wheels at all – to do everything in flow, not consciously thinking about it, just naturally reacting and in extreme cases even reaching a state similar to out-of-body experiences. Despite the sound of it, this book is far from being esoteric.

One of the most important things Brolin draws from in his book and what makes this such a worthy read are the countless original quotes he collected over the years. Brolin obviously has good connections in the paddocks of the world and the athletes he spoke with about the subject are not limited to motorsport. And apart from the athletes themselves, the book assembles quotes from some of the greatest and most colourful minds in the world of professional sport to shine light on the topic from all sides.

Even though it is intended to be read from cover to cover, one of the great features of Overdrive is that you can jump in and out of it at any point – starting with a quote from your favourite athlete for example – but still get sucked in immediately and always take something away from it.

If you’re only interested in two-wheeled motorsports, don’t let the title fool you, because this book is still for you. Aside from the fact that the state of flow Brolin describes fits MotoGP and other motorsports just as well as any sport (citing athletes such as Boris Becker for good measure) it includes insightful quotes from some of MotoGP’s greatest riders as well as from legendary people behind the scenes such as Jerry Burgess, Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Troy Bayliss, John Surtees and Doctor Claudio Costa, to name just a few.

Quite frankly, you don’t even need to be an avid follower of any of these sports. You don’t need to know anything about Senna’s career to follow the outstanding achievements of him described in the book. What this book is about is not a mere look AT athletes, it’s an attempt to look INSIDE athletes and therefore a look inside all of us and what is possible for us to achieve.

Overdrive is quite an excellent read by a first-time author, chock-full of memorable and personal insights from some of motorsport’s biggest heroes and well-elaborated thoughts on a highly interesting topic. If you ever wondered how on earth the athletes you admire are capable of doing what they do or why they do it – this book is for you.

Kate Walker (girlracer.co.uk - December 16, 2010)

How do you define perfection? How do you put into words a phenomenon that few people ever experience, or explain the world that exists beyond excellence? In ‘Overdrive – Formula 1 in the Zone’, Clyde Brolin attempts to bring to life those rare moments when human consciousness becomes secondary to the experience, when someone at the peak of their powers goes beyond what is possible and delivers the exceptional.

The book was inspired by Ayrton Senna’s now-legendary 1988 Monaco qualifying lap, which the eloquent driver described to Gerald Donaldson... But the out-of-body experience that some athletes describe is not restricted to the world of sport.

Fighter pilots have described breaking out of their planes, watching themselves dogfight from a seat on the wing. During the Second World War, war poet John Gillespie Magee Jr, a pilot officer with the RCAF 412 squadron, wrote a poem that perfectly encapsulates the concept of breakout. His description of the experience is very similar to Senna’s:

Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Capturing the metaphysical on the printed page is a challenging task, but it is one that Brolin handles with aplomb. Given the subtitle, the bulk of interviewees come from F1 paddocks past and present. But Brolin does not restrict himself to single-seater racing stars. Interview subjects include racers from other series, and athletes from sports including tennis, golf and football.

The concept of ‘the zone’ or ‘the limit’ is one often cited in sporting literature. In ‘Overdrive’, Brolin attempts to bring the experience to life for the armchair fan, and his use of interviews and anecdotes means that he is largely successful. I say largely because there are limits to vicarious experience – Brolin takes the reader as close as it is possible to get, but for those of us who have never seen the zone, going beyond it is impossible.

But for a professional athlete, the zone is the ultimate goal... If you’ve ever watched on-board footage and found yourself wondering how drivers manage to squeeze out those extra tenths from seemingly perfect laps, then ‘Overdrive’ is the book for you. Until the Vulcan mind meld has been perfected, Brolin’s well-researched collection of first-person accounts from a wealth of racers is as close as a normal human being will get to understanding the phenomenon.

Jon Culley (www.thesportsbookshelf.com - November 15, 2010)

Sebastian Vettel’s timing could not have been better. With the Formula One drivers’ championship still open to four contenders as the cars lined up on the grid for the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi, Vettel produced the perfect drive at the perfect moment.

With pre-race points leader Fernando Alonso unable to finish in the first four, which would have denied Vettel the title, the 23-year-old German became the youngest F1 champion, his victory putting him in front for the only time in the championship.

By consensus, he drove a superb race. But did he find himself in the zone?

It is not a phrase often recognised as carrying profound meaning. Indeed, in most sports it would convey nothing more than a sense of focus or concentration, a basic prerequisite to success.

In motor racing, however, to be in the zone is to reach an almost mystical place, or a state of mind in any event, in which the driver and car effectively become one entity, the occupant of the cockpit as much part of the machine as the vehicle is an extension of its pilot.

It is a phenomenon that first prompted wide discussion after Ayrton Senna described his qualifying laps for the Monaco Grand Prix in 1988 and spoke about something akin to an out-of-body experience, in which his McLaren-Honda car went faster and faster until the Brazilian began to believe he was above the car, looking down at himself at the wheel.

It transpired he was not the first to have encountered such feelings during a race or qualifying but it was only after Senna had vocalised the experience in such startling terms that others admitted that they too had known disturbing moments similar to the one Senna described.

The phenomenon is explored by the motor racing writer Clyde Brolin in a book entitled Overdrive: Formula 1 in the Zone, in which more than 100 interviewees -- not all of them racing drivers -- explain what they understand the phrase to mean and how their experiences compare with Senna’s.

Senna risked ridicule with his public admission, or at least the murmured suspicion that he was slightly bonkers. Yet many of those quizzed by Brolin could recall moments in their cars when normal conscious thought processes gave way to something else.

Jenson Button, for example, said that he sometimes would drive a qualifying lap in which he could later remember not a single detail, whereas normally he would be able to replay the lap in his mind in exact detail. Usually, the laps in question were especially quick.

And Vettel described moments when everything about the way the car was set up was perfect but that there was something extra. “That’s the magic and it can make a big difference… it is the best feeling in driving. You are always fighting to reach this.”

Brolin touches on a number of possible explanations, or theories about explanations, for the phenomenon, from the neurological and the technical to the astro-physical or spiritual.
He does not attempt to resolve the question by offering his own answer. Then again, so far there really isn’t one.

Julie Gueguen (Formula One Fans Association – October 22, 2010)

Why do you love sport? This is a question every sports fan should ask themselves. Why do you yell at your TV screen when the umpire refuses to see the serve was out? Or get into heated arguments with anyone who dares tell you F1 is just a bunch of overgrown adolescents playing with toy cars? Some would say this is a matter of identity. The territorial representation of modern warfare, where our battlefields are football fields and where our soldiers proudly defend our banners while promoting Nike. Others... like the author of Overdrive: Formula 1 in the Zone, Clyde Brolin, would say that it goes much deeper than that.

The passion that animated the British author throughout his ten years of research to complete this book takes its roots in the spirit of sport. More than national identity or societal constructs, his idea of sport is that of a quest for humanity. Super-humanity, even. And it all began with a very special super-human, Ayrton Senna.

Clyde Brolin was a teenager and F1 enthusiast when in 1988, the Brazilian legend famously reported an "out of body" experience during qualifying for the Monaco GP: "I was already on pole and I was going faster and faster […] And I suddenly realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was kind of driving it by instinct, only I was in a different dimension." This spiritual confession, quite characteristic of the three-time World Champion, inspired Brolin when he began his career as an F1 journalist years later. Where others would ask racing drivers about their performances or their latest conquests, he would remind them of Senna's experience and inquire whether they ever shared that feeling of other-worldly perfection.

In such a proudly "macho environment", as the author puts it himself, taking a peek at what is inside the helmet was quite risky. But a quest for the spirit of sport requires reaching the soul of athletes. This is what Clyde Brolin did. In an interview given to FOFA, he admitted this had been the task of a lifetime. Innumerable hours spent waiting to catch the fastest men in the world, and many more spent trying to fathom their peculiar thought-process.

This resulted in Overdrive: Formula 1 in the Zone: a thorough investigation giving an original perspective on what motivates racing drivers to risk their lives every other weekend. Far from the Darwinian image of alpha and beta males fighting for the head of the pack; even further from the televised portrayal of glamorous winning machines promoting mass consumerism behind their $40,000 steering wheels, Overdrive pictures them as profoundly human, sometimes mystical men, with an incredible understanding of existence at large and of their sport in particular.

Gathering the testimonies of such diverse and major figures as Sébastien Loeb, Valentino Rossi and Michael Schumacher (among many others), Overdrive constitutes a patchwork of deeply intimate sensations, formerly unknown, all leading to the concept of "The Zone". This zone that Ayrton Senna had identified as another dimension, and that all these drivers confessed to have visited once in a while in the course of their career. Some consider it as the representation of absolute focus, others see it as an act of fusion between them and their machine, or an instant of karmic completion between them and the universe. But all agree on one thing: this is what drives them, both literally and figuratively. Reaching "The Zone" for an infinitesimal moment, during a perfect lap where everything seems possible, where they feel invulnerable, indestructible, is what justifies years of sacrifices and self-discipline. Not the champagne, the trophy, the title and glory... Just that sensation of reaching the heart of humanity.

As such, Overdrive: Formula 1 in the Zone redefines sport as a metaphor for the eternal quest that is existence. All these men, driving always faster towards the hint of an answer, do what we all do everyday. We spend our lives wandering and searching for that moment when we too, will feel invincible, indestructible, "at one" with the universe. This is why we love sport. Because when these super-humans reach "The Zone", a part of us reaches it with them.

Dan Cross (Motorsport Musings website - August 20, 2010)

To an outsider, a Formula One driver’s success rests entirely on their machinery. While there is some truth in this, other factors such as physical fitness and mental strength are also necessary for any driver competing at the highest level. But what if this wasn’t enough? What if there was something else that could make the difference between winning and finishing second?

Well there is. Most drivers will stumble upon this tiny extra boost at some point in their racing careers, but the problem is that 'it' is largely unexplained. When a driver (or any sports person for that matter) claims to have reached "the zone", they’re said to be engulfed by a sense of inner peace, where everything comes easy, bordering on invincibility. The effects range from bending time and space to out of body experiences.

Clyde Brolin's Overdrive focuses on this phenomenon and attempts to explain how a trip to "the zone" is more than just a cliché that is often spouted post-race by an overjoyed racing driver. Beginning with Ayrton Senna’s infamous qualifying run for the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix, Overdrive takes the reader on a journey through the minds of some of the greatest sporting legends that are alive and present today.

A decade in the making, Brolin has managed to conduct a seriously impressive amount of interviews with a vast array of top flight drivers and sports folk who all recount experiences of entering the unfamiliar areas of the neurological and astrophysical. All without any reluctance through fear they may be seen as barking mad.

In practice, this means that every facet of information Brolin gives on the subject is cross-referenced by a quote from someone who has encountered the euphoria from being “in the zone.” As a result, a topic which would normally be seen as mumbo jumbo becomes truly fascinating and easy to relate to, due in part to well-known drivers such as Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso recalling their experiences and making it easy to digest.

Overdrive has clearly been a labour of love for the author and his passion for the subject shines through on every page. The full extent of this phenomenon is thoroughly examined, with no stone left unturned, but importantly, nor does it come to any conclusion on how one might be able to enter such territory at any given time.

You could complain that towards the end things become a little repetitive, but that would be missing the point. As Brolin explains: “it hopefully shows this effect is available to everyone,” and you know what? He’s probably right. We as humans are capable of much more than we’re given credit for and we all have access to another level thanks to our subconscious.

Fascinating as it is thought provoking; Overdrive is no ordinary sports book. Such dedication and painstaking research in collating hundreds of descriptions on a topic that is mostly beyond words should be rewarded. So go buy it. An essential purchase.

***** (five stars)

Robbiemeister website – June 19, 2010

I first heard of the book Overdrive on the BBC Red Button Service during practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix. As a lifelong follower of motor sport and a keen student and practitioner of personal development I am intensely interested in the ways of the mind and how it can affect human performance. I was hooked.

The Zone is an often described state that many experience when performing at their very best. A paradoxical state where you are there but not consciously doing, where choices and actions become automatic and natural. Clyde Brolin writes a fascinating work recounting numerous interviews and anecdotes with almost all of the top people in motor sport from both the present and the past and their experiences of The Zone. If that isn’t enough he includes anecdotes and interviews with many of the top performers in other sports as well.

The author has described this book as a lifelong ambition and it has been 10 years in the making. As an F1 journalist for one of the world’s most prestigious motor sport publications and the PR man for a high profile Formula One team Clyde had access to everyone in the F1 paddock over a 10-year period and painstakingly assembled interviews and anecdotes from racing people about being in The Zone, what it means and what it is for all of them.

Too many to mention all here, the items that stand out for me are the detailed investigation into Senna’s out of body qualifying lap at Monaco in 1988, motor sport’s nirvana of being in The Zone, to Martin Brundle’s assertion that anyone and everyone is capable of achieving such states if they wish. Then onto Dr Claudio Costa’s testimony that the severe pain of broken bones can be completely eliminated when the love of a sport and the desire to compete are involved.

Written in a relaxing style, easy to read and constantly drawing you on to the next page this book is a very enjoyable and relaxing. In my opinion this book is essential reading for anyone interested in sport and human performance. If you’re a racing driver you should have already read it.

Damien Smith (Motor Sport magazine - July, 2010)

Spirituality and motor racing: it’s not a comfortable mix. Whenever Ayrton Senna alluded to his faith and its influence on his racing, many would squirm. Not very ‘Stirling Moss’, is it?

That’s why Clyde Brolin’s thorough, 10-years-in-the-making study of such an intangible is so brave. He risked being laughed at when asking a roster of racing drivers including Alonso, Schumacher and Hamilton if they have experienced ‘out-of-body’ sensations in their quest to find the ubiquitous ‘zone’ of ultimate performance. Instead, the majority were happy to oblige.

It’s a fascinating book that delves deep into the psychology of sport. At times, the navel gazing wears a little thin, but still it’s a remarkable achievement. The most original motor racing book of 2010? Without a doubt.

Renaud Lacroix (French motor sport journalist - June 1, 2010)

I really enjoyed this book. For years, I’ve tried to convince other race fans that motor sport was not so much about motor as it was about sport – a fight between humans and sometimes between a man and himself. Overdrive gives all the arguments needed.

I was glad not to find a boring philosophical essay relying on the author’s assumptions. This book is full of interviews, quotes and vivid memories from the drivers themselves. I’ve been boycotting F1 races for ten years and I was afraid to read stories of new drivers I don’t really care about. Fortunately not only did it also feature former legends like Moss, Stewart, Surtees and Berger, but as a WTCC, IndyCar and NASCAR fan I was pleased to find Andy Priaulx, Cristiano da Matta, Alain Menu, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards. The quotes from rally ace Michèle Mouton make this book even more interesting and devoting the last chapter to Alessandro Zanardi is the perfect finish.

There are plenty of differences in the drivers’ descriptions of the Zone. Some call it extreme concentration, some call it God. I’m pretty sure they experienced the very same thing and only culture and education differ.

By reading this book, I understood the Zone can be extended to many other disciplines and I am convinced the same process is involved for all these people, including the racing drivers. This ultra-concentration reached when we focus hard leads to another state of consciousness. But the Zone may not be reserved to an elite, it’s a skill we all have waiting to be revealed, trained and used.

I am already waiting for the sequel…

Laurence Edmondson (ESPNF1.com - April 29, 2010)

Talk of being "in the zone" has become clichéd among sportsmen in recent years. It would be easy to assume their vocabulary has simply run short in trying to describe a good performance, but is it possible there is something much deeper and more meaningful to the phrase?

In Overdrive, Clyde Brolin examines the possibility that finding the zone could be a route to some sort of spiritual enlightenment as well as heightened performance. Fortunately, he's as cynical about the premise as you probably are and the book is more an exploration of the idea rather than an attempt to prove it. By focusing on F1 drivers' journeys to the zone he looks at what is truly possible from a man, two pedals (three in the good old days) and a steering wheel.

Brolin's investigation begins in the most obvious place: Ayrton Senna's jaw-dropping qualifying lap of Monaco in 1988, in which the Brazilian claimed to have an out-of-body experience while lapping the street circuit 1.427 seconds faster than any of his competitors. It's a good place to start, but of course you can't base a whole theory on (whisper it) a self-confessed bible-basher who might have got carried away in a press conference. Fortunately Brolin hasn't. In fact, he's done the opposite and interviewed around 100 other F1 and sporting personalities who have reported similar, if not quite as dramatic, visits to the zone.

This is the book's biggest strength but also a potential flaw. The accounts are almost endless. But, much like reaching the zone, the hard work is worth it as the book puts beyond any doubt the importance of psychology in sport. What's more there are some brilliant descriptions of the zone, most notably darts player Bobby George who describes the feeling as, "Like having a thousand starlings flying out of your arsehole".

So with the premise well and truly established it would seem logical to explore how it's possible to achieve such a feat. Unfortunately this is the difficult bit, and Brolin doesn't really attempt to address it. Instead he leaves it to the drivers to try and explain, and judging by their widely differing accounts, there is no single answer. But that's certainly not a criticism of the book, more proof of just how fascinating the subject topic is.

Masses of time has clearly gone into researching Overdrive, and the end result leaves you looking at some of sport's greatest achievements in a very different light. The fact that F1 hasn't embraced sport psychology in the same way as other individual pursuits such as golf or tennis means a lot of the content is incredibly fresh. While the book is not likely to revolutionise the sport, it will add another dimension for any F1 fan willing to open their mind to it.

**** (four stars)

Simon Briggs (The Daily Telegraph - April 2, 2010)

Imagine piloting an F1 car at 140mph round the streets of Monaco. It’s a pretty frightening circuit, even for me who have been racing all their lives. The elder Nelson Piquet once said that driving at Monaco felt like ‘flying a helicopter around your living room’.

Now imagine that the car is still romping around those hairpin bends, but rather than watching the road through your helmet visor, you are looking down on yourself impassively from above. You can no longer feel your hands on the wheel or your feet on the pedals; instead, it is as if some third party (God? The id?) is performing all the mechanics quite independently.

Most alarmingly, the car seems to be moving faster than it has ever gone before. That is the sort of out-of-body experience that Ayrton Senna reported after his extraordinary qualifying lap at Monaco in 1988. That drive has gone down in grand prix folklore. After beating his McLaren team-mate Alain Prost by a second-and-a-half, and the rest of the field by fully two seconds, Senna admitted: ‘It frightened me because I realised I was well beyond my conscious understanding’.

This phenomenon of driving on autopilot fascinated the motor sport writer Clyde Brolin so much that he wrote a book about it. And after 10 years’ labour, he has produced ‘Overdrive’, an analysis of the mental states that top athletes – mostly, but not exclusively racing drivers – go through when they compete. Brolin’s main theme is the concept of ‘the Zone’, that oasis of heightened performance where time seems to slow down. Most of the drivers he spoke to could remember entering this trance-like condition a handful of times during their careers, but only the very best – the Sennas and Schumachers – made a habit of it.

The abandonment of ego, at least temporarily, seems to be one of the prerequisites. According to Jackie Stewart, his early performances in F1 were held back by the red mist that often surrounds the angry young driver. It was only after three years’ racing that he realised he needed to be totally detached, to the point where Stewart was almost humming a tune while his brain performed its calculations like a computer.

When Brolin consulted other drivers about such stories, many dismissed them as fantasies on a par with Luke Skywalker’s ability to fight blindfolded. But the author was reassured by the fighter pilot who told him that ‘breakout – where guys feel they’re sitting on the wing looking into the cockpit at themselves – is a well-known phenomenon in military aviation, particularly fast-jet flying.’

For the most, ‘Overdrive’ is insightful and leaves you with a fresh perspective on F1. Which is exactly what Senna experienced in Monaco all those years ago.

**** (four stars)

Maurice Hamilton (The Observer - March 7, 2010)

Racing drivers drive as fast as they can. An obvious statement, perhaps, but for a driver at the highest level, finding a tiny bit extra makes the difference between winning and finishing second. When a driver reaches that outer limit, he is in "the zone". It is an area almost beyond understanding but, once inside it, a driver – or any sports person – experiences a sense of calm and ease of action that comes close to euphoria.

Explaining how it happened is much more difficult, if not impossible. And because, say, a Formula One driver knows he has entered unfamiliar and therefore disturbing areas of the astrophysical and neurological, there is a reluctance to talk about it in case the listener thinks he is either mad or out of control when supposedly in charge of a vehicle capable of 200mph.

Ayrton Senna broke new ground when he described, without prompting, an "out-of-car experience" when claiming pole position for the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix. Senna said the McLaren-Honda was going faster and faster and with such apparent ease that the Brazilian reached the point where he appeared to be above the car, looking down on it. Such an admission from a highly respected driver prompted others to confess that, very occasionally, they had experienced similar inexplicable feelings.

The full extent of this phenomenon has become startlingly apparent in Overdrive. Formula 1 In The Zone, a paperback book that thoroughly investigates the subject. Clyde Brolin clearly has impeccable contacts and the respect of the racing community, judging by 100 interviews with top drivers and riders.

Brolin spreads his inquires to rallying (Sébastien Loeb), Le Mans (multiple-winner Tom Kristensen) and motor bikes (Valentino Rossi), but it is the F1 drivers who provide the meat for a revealing book on a fascinating subject. Gerhard Berger, the winner of 10 grands prix, provides a typical example.

"Qualifying was when you could really find The Zone," Berger says. "On some days you are fighting the car, everything hurts and nothing seems to fit. You have no lap time and you know it. But at other times you feel yourself reaching a higher level. Everything would be just like in slow motion, everything becomes very smooth and very soft. When you\'re really on it, it's absolutely the best feeling in the world."

Mark Hughes (Autosport magazine - Feb 25, 2010)

Medical understanding of the processes going on within the driver is still at a primitive level. But in a fascinating new book, Overdrive: Formula 1 in the Zone, Clyde Brolin takes a more intuitive look at the subject. He searches out those who have experienced that magical feeling in a racing car where they can do no wrong, where driving absolutely at the limit is the easiest thing in the world. It’s a feeling of invincibility rarely attained even by the top guys, but it is generally accessible by anyone. When a driver reaches this zone, that is when we see pure, undistilled, 100 per cent of his potential. It’s the place of which Ayrton Senna famously and mystically spoke when describing his laps at Monaco in 1988.

Brolin has interviewed many of the sport’s greats, as well as lesser lights and sportspeople from outside motor racing, about the phenomenon and the consistency of the themes is striking. Whether we assign neurological, technical, astro-physical or spiritual explanations to the experience is open for debate. And it would inevitably be a fruitless debate, because of the fundamental intransigence people with expertise in each of those fields tend to have about accepting theories outside their own area of knowledge.

The book doesn’t try to reach a resolution on this, but it does record the views of those who have them. Ironically, it is those with open minds who have ready access to the phenomenon. The only real conclusion the book reaches is that the zone is ‘free to everyone with the correct decoder’ but it ventures no theory on what that decoder is – and is all the better for that.

Brolin took years researching the book and it would be nice if he were rewarded for such dedication to a complex, ultimately unresolved but fascinating subject. Buy it: you’ll have spent a tenner but gained a fascinating insight.

Dr Gordon McCabe (McCabism website - Mar 1, 2010)

Overdrive is first and foremost a book about what it is like to be a racing driver 'in the Zone'. This is the state of mind in which a driver attains mental clarity, he feels at one with the car, and in which driving fast at the very limit feels effortless. This mental state requires the conscious mind to relax its control, and allow the subconscious mind to take over. At times like this, the conscious mind of the driver is able to sit back and observe, from an almost disinterested perspective, the actions of his own body.

It is a unique and fabulous work. The author has extracted a gripping and fascinating collection of lucid recollections from many of the most famous names in motorsport. Brolin has essentially unearthed a whole world of private experience which has received little prior attention. The accounts rendered of being in the Zone should be treated as a treasure-trove for psychologists and neuroscientists, and even the more overtly religious testimonies later in the book can be seen as an interesting anthropological study of the beliefs held by certain modern tribes. Buy it!

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