Book Review - 'The Mechanic', by Marc Priestley
Marc Priestley has published an account of his years as a mechanic with McLaren, from pranks and revenge with Kimi Raikkonen to an employee’s perspective on the 2007 season, from Spygate to intra-team tensions.
As a devoted bookworm, my early F1 passion was fuelled not only by the action on track, but also by the human narratives surrounding the sport.
Early in my fandom I trawled through Amazon and charity shops for any and every Formula 1 story I could find, from drivers’ biographies to heavyweight tomes on the internal politics and power plays.
In those early years, one of the most enjoyable books I read was Steve Matchett’s A Mechanic’s Tale, an account of life on the road with F1 and all of the blood, sweat, and tears that life with a team entails.
That book was first published in 1999, when the F1 calendar crossed rather less of the globe than it does today. Now, Marc ‘Elvis’ Priestley has published his own account of a similar story, this time set in the 2000s.
The Mechanic is a worthy successor to Matchett’s story, and a modern update of life in the sport.
We begin with a young Priestley falling in love with F1, and - in actions that foreshadow the cheekiness and juvenile high spirits of the rest of the book - invading the infield at Brands Hatch for a closer look at the cars before being caught and expelled with his similarly mischievous friends.
In time, Priestley secures a role with the McLaren test team, learning his trade away from the international media scrutiny of the F1 paddock but clocking up a selection of extraordinary tales that could only have happened when the sport was flush with tobacco sponsorship, and money was no object in the race for development and domination.
As Priestley progresses through the ranks, he finds a sport filled with people who work hard and play harder, an ethos that stretches from the lowest rungs of the garage ladder up to the cheeky imps tasked with racing the cars.
It is an environment that pushes everyone to succeed, both on track (obviously) and (less so) in out-pranking anyone and everyone, often to mutual chagrin.
Much care and attention is given to Priestley’s years spent working with Kimi Raikkonen, whose rebellious nature needs no introduction. There was a strong bond and mutual respect between driver and mechanic, and The Mechanic is worth reading for the revenge pranks alone.
But there is rather more meat on the bones of this book than drunken hi-jinks and naughtiness on a global scale.
After Raikkonen’s departure from the team Priestley had an insider’s view of the war between double world champion Fernando Alonso and upstart rookie Lewis Hamilton, as well as the Spygate scandal that shook the F1 world.
The 2007 season is assessed - from the garage point of view - with forensic detail, and Priestley offers insights heretofore unseen.
Where the book stumbles is in its treatment of the 2008 season, which is covered in a handful of pages. That year may have been a peaceful one inside the team, without the fireworks that Alonso and Hamilton brought to 2007, but it feels like a rushed treatment of what was a thrilling year on track. Only the finale in Brazil is treated with the attention it deserves.
Despite the hurried feel of the final section of the book, however, The Mechanic is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the minutiae of life inside a team.
Priestley's account of his years on the road with McLaren is hardly a flattering self portrait. Throughout the good times and the bad times, he and his crew got up to all manner of mischief that was fun in the moment and cringe-worthy in retrospect.
It is a credit to the man that he has not glossed over the sort of moments most of us would prefer to bury. The Mechanic is his story, warts and all, and it is a story very much worth reading.
The Mechanic by Marc 'Elvis' Priestley (Yellow Jersey) is out today (Thursday).
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