We review Formula E TV reporter Marc “Elvis” Priestley’s entertaining book about his life as a Formula One mechanic for McLaren.
After a decade-long career on the wrenches, Marc Priestley has carved out a successful media career working for the BBC, Sky F1 and also delivering engaging technical content for the FIA Formula E Championship.
His book of reminiscences on his career with McLaren offer a unique insight into working closely with the likes of David Coulthard, Kimi Räikkönen and Lewis Hamilton at the pinnacle of the sport.
There are very few true insights into the life of someone who works in Formula One and by some of Priestley’s revelations in his enjoyable book The Mechanic – The Secret World of the F1 Pit Lane you can probably see why.
Intrigue, high-jinks and some truly horrific F1 rituals pepper his memoirs. From over a decade within the mystically cleansed environs of McLaren’s anointed corridors, Priestley gives a rare insight in to what the TV cameras and the huge ranks of journalists don’t capture at a race track.
From the arrival of Räikkönen in 2002, to the dramatic title finale of 2008 between Hamilton and Massa, the anecdotes and personal recollections take the reader on a rollercoaster ride through a myriad of highs and lows that leave you in no hesitation that the life of an F1 mechanic is hard yet rewarding.
Priestley’s description of his first-ever live pit stop at Melbourne in 2002 sets you on edge. Such is the voluminous description it reads as an ordeal rather than a milestone in his professional life. It is brilliantly descriptive and engages the reader satisfyingly.
The pages dedicated to McLaren boss Ron Dennis are also a highlight of the book. Working for someone so driven lends itself to some riveting analysis of one of the industry’s greatest achievers but also one of its true curiosities.
One of the few what if’s of the book is that Priestley doesn’t investigate the similarities between his role and that with which Dennis launched himself in to the F1 world at Cooper and Brabham in the 1960s.
This feels like a slightly missed opportunity in understanding where Dennis came from and how far he went.
Dennis’ ludicrous and convoluted ejection from his own creation is touched upon. A sad figure emerges from the mess for which he largely brought upon himself.
Priestley could easily have emerged from this book as a somewhat smarmy, pleased with himself individual, but there is none of that at all.
Instead, you get an honest, witty and amusing story which isn’t afraid to occasionally self-parody.
There is no pomposity or elitism here. What you get is a very adept telling of an original and at times tumultuous story which sometimes gives as much to the Human Resources department at Woking than it does to the race crew!
The section describing his early days of living on the edge of the Brands Hatch circuit, breaking into and occasionally watching the action from inside a tire-wall (no, really!) are evocative.
The overall tone is one of fun, few regrets and a tale of starting from the bottom, enjoying a fascinating ‘at the coalface’ career with McLaren, and then knowing when to extricate himself.
There are some slight niggles too throughout the book but these don’t detract at all from its overall entertaining narrative.
Priestley’s style is colloquially fast-paced but sometimes it gets a bit too “stream of consciousness.” This is but a small gripe.
The book amuses in a diverting way, albeit in an occasionally uncouth and often unnecessarily laddish perspective. There are warts and all, and quite a few of them too, but as Priestley attests he was a young guy doing his dream job so who wouldn’t have had fun.
Priestley and his cohorts attempts at rock ‘n’ roll hi-jinks are quite typical in racing circles and usually they somehow came up smelling of roses…..and booze!
Overall, this is a great read and one which adds touches of real insight in to a vocation that many aspire too. Few actually come out of the other side and are able to articulate it so well and it is easy to see how he has made the transition from mechanic to engaging media pundit and presenter.
It was hard to review this book without spilling forth too many spoilers.
Suffice to say, that like me, you are unlikely to now look at any given photo of Räikkönen and not hear Marvin Gaye’s lyrics from ‘Heard it Through the Grapevine’ swirl around your mind.
“I bet you’re wonderin’ how I knew……..’Bout your plans to make me blue!”
The Mechanic: The Secret World of the F1 Pitlane
Marc ‘Elvis’ Priestley
£9.99 (Amazon Kindle)