DRIVEN: THE MEN WHO MADE FORMULA ONE
“They competed on the track and scrapped to outdo each other’s bank balance, yet whenever sh*t hit the fan, they closed ranks like the Corleones.”
Take a moment to consider just how many times the names of Bernie Ecclestone, Max Mosley, Ron Dennis, Frank Williams, Eddie Jordan, Colin Chapman, Ken Tyrrell, Luca di Montezemelo, and Enzo Ferrari have graced the pages of Motorsport News.
Then, lend a handful of thoughts as to why. Why the names of these nine men have become synonymous with Formula 1.
Individually their USPS would make each a formidable opponent: Ecclestone’s eye for a deal; di Montezemelo’s suave persona combined with his links to the upper echelons of Italian society; or the intensity and selfbelief to make things happen of Dennis and Williams. “They might not have been much alike,” notes author of Driven: The Men Who Made Formula One Kevin Eason, “but they operated like a sporting Mafia family.”
After stepping down from F1 reporting duties for The Times in 2016, journalist Eason has written a highly entertaining look back on the characters who laid the foundations for the likes of Chase Carey, Toto Wolff and Christian Horner.
It would be easy to fall into the trap of simply regurgitating the same old story about how Ecclestone strong-armed himself into position as F1’s emperor, right under the noses of contemporaries such as Tyrrell, Chapman and Williams. But Eason aims “not to attempt to tackle the complexities of the sport in detail, but to paint portraits of the people I dealt with in 20 years of reporting from tracks all over the world”.
The main building blocks of the book are the anecdotes popped into every chapter that reveal just a little more about its subject. For example: Ecclestone once offered a Mercedes 230SL hardtop to a car dealer who had got one over on him. Never to be outfoxed, for a knockdown price, Ecclestone sold the lucky dealer exactly that: a hardtop for the 230SL. Or the time in Kuala Lumpar, when Eddie Jordan jumped in a taxi to Chinatown to buy a bag full of £20 ultra-realistic fake Omega watches after spotting Eason’s over dinner.
In its early chapters, Driven is a little jumpy as it tries to chronologically follow the entwined paths of the pioneers. As Ecclestone begins to wield influence with Mosley in tandem in the early 1980s, the book becomes a lot slicker. Perhaps, there is a metaphor in there somewhere…
With such a strong repertoire of interviewees, it is a shame that the scandals of Spygate and Crashgate are not further unpacked. With Dennis refusing to speak about the 2007 annus horriblis at Mclaren, that story goes as far as it can. But with Ecclestone, Mosley and then Renault boss Flavio Briatore discussing Nelson Piquet Jr’s crash that aided Fernando Alonso’s victory in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, the reader is left wanting more.
However that is a minor gripe, for the previously mentioned anecdotes make the book fast-paced and difficult to put down. A particular highlight is when Ecclestone, all 5ft 3in of him, allegedly threatened to throw a ranting Tyrrell out of a window.
The teams, who cottoned onto Ecclestone’s unique business models, were apoplectic. But as the now 88-yearold reminisces: “We didn’t go into the business to make money. We went in to race and if we made some money then good. But we were racers.”
It can be very hard to strike a balance between stimulating the mind of an F1 devotee and a casual fan who might happen across the book on a shelf or online. But Eason has found a strong middle ground between pleasing any reader of the book, motorsport enthusiast or not.