Book Review: The Mechanic’s Tale (Steve Matchett)

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Detailing the workings of the Formula One paddock during late 1980s and 1990s through the eyes of a race mechanic, Steve Matchett’s “The Mechanic’s Tale” is a wonderful text that will leave you struggling to put the book down at night and immediately grabbing for it in the morning.

The story takes you on a journey from Matchett’s experiences as a first-year mechanic and the lessons he learnt as an apprentice all the way to his involvement in the Benetton team’s World Championship victories in 1994 and 1995, eventually finishing with his retirement from F1 in the late 1990s.

The Mechanic’s Tale is a wonderfully humourous book that analyses motor-racing in a light-hearted manner and exposes the facts behind the image of Formula One. Matchett has created a wonderful atmosphere in which the reader can easily immerse themselves for hours of reading.

Matchett’s position in the team during the high-point of Benetton’s spell in Formula One makes him a fantastic reference to explain the demands on a modern F1 mechanic. The author hides nothing in his detailing of the arduous struggles any given mechanic must go through in order to maintain a position on the race team – the 16+ hour work days a particular peeve of his.

From his struggles to find a job with a Formula One, to the demands placed on him by his team and  his own will to stand out, the introduction of active suspension race and his unashamed fear of being injured during a high-speed modern pit stop (Steve was one of the mechanics working on Jos Verstappen’s car when it erupted into flame during the 1994 German Grand Prix), Matchett’s story is an enthralling read that should be the first destination for any information on the human story of F1.

Unfortunately, Matchett glossed over his later years in Formula One and failed to put in as much effort into the post-championship, post-Michael Schumacher era at Benetton. His build up to the titles was fantastic, but once the highest highs had been reached it almost seemed as if his interest somewhat subsided. Perhaps this was deliberate; the author states multiple times that his intention when entering Formula One was to be part of a World Championship-winning team and after he had achieved that he would be able to focus on his next life challenge.

Overall, I rank this book very highly. If you’re looking for an enjoyable novel that isn’t intensely packed with figures that you’ll try – and mostly fail – to remember, don’t look past The Mechanic’s Tale. It’s a wonderfully light-hearted piece that could be for both the experienced fan and the newcomer.

4/5

I first met Michael in the Benetton pit garage at Monza after he had just signed a contract with Flavio. Somehow, Eddie Jordan had taken his eye off the Formula One ball for just a split second, but that was sufficient time for Flavio to introduce himself to Schumaher and his manager. Eddie in that first year was still perhaps a little green to the way some things work in Grand Prix racing, but after all the political dust had settled, the upshot was that he had let Schumacher slip through his fingers. And he must have been seething too, for without doubt, if he had kept Michael in one of his cars, Jordan Grand Prix Ltd would be Formula One World Champions two or even three times over by now. In that one slip Eddie saw untold millions in lost revenue escape through his fingers. Good job it’s only a sport and we can all shake hands and have a drink together on the flight home.

The brief Benetton/Schumacher courtship was shrouded in secrecy, and the press release was withheld until the very last minute. However, prior to the team flying out to Italy, Michael had already been to our Witney factory for a seat fitting, and we had taken this seat with us as hand baggage on the plane from Heathrow. It was even marked with a large MS in white paint-pen on the back – all seats are marked with the relevant driver’s initials – but as the teams are constantly sending all sorts of last-minute components out with their mechanics everyone seemed oblivious to this rather blatant clue as to what we were about to announce to the world.

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