“Life in the Fast Lane” is the first of the two memoirs of former Benetton mechanic Steve Matchett. It focuses on the particularly tragic, turbulent and controversial 1994 season which nonetheless eventually saw Benetton’s Michael Schumacher win the World Drivers Championship.
Steve Matchett’s book tells the story of a season’s racing from a mechanic’s point of view – and if it teaches you nothing else, it’s that the mechanics and technicians are every bit as competitive as the drivers.
It’s a staple of every post-race press conference. The same bland platitude, down to the very same words, time and time again. “The guys did a great job today”, “the guys worked really hard”, “this win is so good for the guys…”
Who are ‘the guys’? They’re people like Steve Matchett: ferociously competitive individuals who have worked all their lives to master a difficult specialism.
If you ever thought that Grand Prix drivers are just ticking a box for the team’s public relations department when they mumble their gratitude for ‘the guys’, you’re wrong. Matchett’s book gives a vital insight into the utterly essential and completely exhausting role they play.
“Life in the Fast Lane” is a rare glimpse into the world of the mechanic: The long, grinding hours, the mind-numbing travel, the dizzy highs of victory and the gut-wrenching agony of defeat.
It is also a first-hand insight into a devastating season for Formula One. The deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna, the subsequent media frenzy and the frantic scramble to make the cars and circuits safer.
And this was a particularly dramatic season to be a Benetton mechanic. They won more races in 1994 than in all their previous season combined, but were frequently subject to accusations of cheating. Michael Schumacher may have won the championship, but he did so in dubious circumstances after colliding with rival Damon Hill, and he had been disqualified from four races.
Not surprisingly, Matchett has plenty to say about this. Particularly the botched handling of Schumacher’s penalty at the British Grand Prix, which is meticulously dissected and criticised for seven pages.
A blast of vitriol is directed at the refuelling regulations, and it carries a lot more weight when it comes from one of the mechanics who was set alight in the horrible fire that engulfed Jos Verstappen’s car in the German Grand Prix that year. (Matchett returns to this theme in greater detail in the follow-up The Mechanic’s Tale).
Life in the Fast Lane has just the right balance of anecdote, humour and technical insight. What is truly remarkable about it, as the author notes, is that he found the time to write it. Good job he did.
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