“The Mechanic’s Tale” – Steve Matchett

The Mechanic’s Tale is Steve Matchett’s second book, following his account of the 1994 season, Life in the Fast Lane, and covers his entire career (with emphasis on the F1 years, of course) until his retirement from the sport in 1997.

Matchett’s prose is a delight to read – light and conversational. 200 pages passed me by in no time at all. Unfortunately this is not just because he has a naturally approachable writing style – there are times when the text loses focus and meanders into rather more detail of Matchett’s musings on life in general than is really necessary. The part about his argument with a second-hand bookshop owner particularly failed to grip me.

But be patient, for there are anecdotes hidden within that are nuggets of pure gold. As a Benetton mechanic for the best part of nine years Matchett has some brilliant tales to tell about the likes of Nelson Piquet, Martin Brundle and Michael Schumacher. A favourite was Brundle radioing the pit to complain that he couldn’t drive the car fast because it was “too stage-coachy.”

It also serves well as a mini-history of the golden years of Benetton. The arrivals of such important figures as Flavio Briatore, Schumacher and Tom Walkinshaw make interesting reading from the perspective of a ‘man on the ground’ – especially his perspective on the rivalry between the Benetton employees and the TWR group.

One highlight is Matchett’s considered and entirely justified polemic against refuelling. There’s really nothing to add to the simple observation that why, when so much is done to cars and tracks to increase safety, is the extraordinarily unsafe and grossly artificial practice of refuelling during a race encouraged?

At any rate, he’s not short of an opinion or two. Elsewhere he touches on one of the great dichotomies of Formula One – is it a sporting test of driving skill or mechanical excellence?

Matchett, unsurprisingly, is emphatically for the latter. He despairs of the FIA’s predilection (under Max Mosley) to ban new car technologies – from active suspension to traction control and four-wheel steering.

There’s plenty to get your teeth into, and even if it’s a little too brief on some places and a bit filler-heavy in others, it’s a worthwhile read for any F1 fan, especially motor racing mechanics.

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