Jake Humphrey’s approach to anchoring the BBC’s Formula 1 coverage, whatever your opinion of his evolving style over the four years, has been characterised by an honest desire to bring the viewer closer to the world of F1.
That same desire was clearly the driving force behind this book. The result is a curious mix: general description and discussion of Formula 1; Humphrey’s opinions and philosophies, on F1 and more generally; the odd anecdote; and a spot of history. It’s certainly not an autobiography.
A lot of the book is given over to explaining how the sport and business of Formula 1 operates. It’s this that determines the target audience, as it’s largely pitched at quite a high level. This is perhaps inevitable, since Humphrey has been involved in the sport only as a broadcaster, and for a relatively short period at that.
That’s not to say that it’s without value though: as an ‘F1 for Dummies’ or ‘My First F1 Book’, for a casual or perhaps younger fan, it does contain a lot of interesting insight. But it’s insight that is, by and large, freely available online; this isn’t a book for someone who hangs on every word that James Allen writes, for instance.
There are nuggets in there for anyone though. Humphrey’s personal reflections on some of the most significant events in his time in the sport – Jenson Button clinching the world championship, for example – are interesting and evocatively described.
His anecdotes and opinions about the sport’s characters are revealing too – even if the really interesting tales tend to be anonymous, because sufficient time hasn’t passed to name names. Also: be prepared for the mental image of Fernando Alonso chatting away in just a jockstrap.
Needless to say, Humphrey is authoritative when he touches on broadcasting. That’s less often than I had expected – and would have liked, for that matter. More of what he really knows, and less generalism, would have made for a more worthwhile read.
Humphrey’s style is informal and conversational, matching the approachable nature of the material, and consistent with his TV and online persona – albeit with a few too many exclamation marks for my taste. His life philosophy comes through too, for better or worse, and will be familiar to anyone who follows him on Twitter.
The success of the book really comes down to the reader’s existing knowledge. For example, I got something out of the chapter on the history of the sport – but I am far from an expert when it comes to the early days of F1.
In short: when it’s not covering material you know, it’s a very accessible introduction to the inner workings of the sport.
‘The Inside Track: Paddocks, Pit Stops and Tales of Life in the Fast Lane’ by Jake Humphrey is published by Simon & Schuster on 8th November 2012.
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