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the book

Clyde Brolin Q&A

What got you hooked on motor racing?

You can blame Ayrton Senna for all this. As a teenager Formula 1 seemed an impossibly glamorous world capped by this majestic talent. I was captivated by Senna’s outrageous ability to drive cars and intrigued by his almost mystical descriptions of life at the limit.

How did you end up working in Formula 1?

I spent my early twenties writing about every sport under the sun. Having got over my Senna mourning I camped out in a car for the 1997 Jerez finale where Jacques Villeneuve survived being rammed by Michael Schumacher. That winter I was working in another field when I bumped into someone with a contact at a motorsport magazine publisher. Call it serendipity, fate or pure fluke but within months I’d stumbled my way into the F1 paddock as a writer – at tests, at least. Come March 1999 I was in Melbourne for round 1 of the championship as a fully-fledged F1 journalist.

So was it as good as the teenage image?

In many ways, yes. Every weekend has the adrenalin increasing as the build-up to race day intensifies. That’s not just for the men in the cockpit – I defy anyone to claim their heart doesn’t beat that bit faster as the cars rev up on the grid. But while my admiration for the racers never dimmed, I grew dismayed by the politics surrounding the whole business. By 2002 I became increasingly weary of the way Ferrari threw everything behind Schumacher to the detriment of his team-mates and the sport – and that year’s Austrian Grand Prix was the final straw to give me the hump.

What happened next?

I’d always had an inkling of the book I’d like to write – about the extreme, even spiritual side of sport – and I took the foolhardy step of quitting my job to concentrate on it. That was premature because my love for the racing was too strong and I still needed access to the men behind the wheel. By the next year I was wearing team uniform back in the paddock at both races and tests. Most crucial was the chance it gave me to sneak words with the greats of the track – even if I had to wait around till long into the night as they emerged from debriefs on these extended days of work.

So how did the drivers react to your surreal questions?

My approach did evolve over the years. To start with I was enquiring about their spiritual and religious approach, which is an awkward subject to broach with anyone. But Senna’s experience at Monaco in 1988 prompted me to find out more and more about ‘the Zone’. I soon realised all the top drivers had gone through something similar. Even the legends were unfailingly willing to talk and many gave their time generously. Some of their tales were so awe-inspiring I found myself walking away with my own head spinning.

How did you find the writing process itself?

Gradually I pieced together enough material to get the book together – but progress was slow. As a journalist I’d written up to 10,000 words every weekend but this book was a labour of love, leading to a painstaking approach. I spent weeks in libraries researching everything that had been written before and found interviews addictive, always needing to tick off ‘just one more’ great name. The albatross round my neck was having to justify myself constantly to the friends and family I’d told of my plan – most of whom had long since written me off as less writer more slacker. But I chipped away, driven on by an internal voice that insisted for the first time in my life that I had something genuinely worth saying.

Go on then, what’s that?

The Zone is an area of supreme ability that is the ultimate goal for all the greats, more precious even than winning a world championship. It comes in a variety of wondrous forms but you don’t have to be a racing driver or cheat death to find it. The more I spoke to people from all walks of life, the more I realised everyone has their own story of a day when ‘everything went right’. The Zone is accessible to all of us, in any field, offering an indication of the true power that is within every living thing – whether you call the source ‘subconscious’, ‘supra-conscious’, ‘God’ or anything else.

Have you been in the Zone yourself?

Personally I’ve only had tantalising glimpses of it. Writing is a more cerebral process and despite experiments by the early 20th Century’s avant-garde movement, if you let your unconscious dictate you tend to end up with a page of gobbledygook. I came closer in my younger forays into sport – the odd football match where everything went right or rare moments on the slopes that echo Rick Phipps’ Skiing Zen. Oddly, after one early gig as a blues pianist people told me I’d done all sorts of showboating – none of which I could remotely recall. But the Zone implies some kind of quality and without a recording I couldn’t tell you whether the end product was any good or, more likely, not…


Lewis Hamilton:The aim is to be in the Zone every time you get in the car. But that day Ayrton Senna was somewhere else – beyond the Zone. That’s heaven…’

Michael Schumacher: ‘The pleasure comes from feeling exactly when you’re at the limit. When you keep it there for the entire lap or the entire race, that is the thrill of racing.’

Fernando Alonso: ‘You arrive at a point where you feel you’re not in a Formula 1 car but a Scalextric. Winning a world championship leads to recognition and is good for self-confidence but inside your heart and your mind this feeling is better.’


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