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Insider turns the page on Formula One

Book Review

  • The Art of War – Five Years in Formula One by Adam Parr
  • 84 pages
  • Available in seven languages as a Kindle download from Amazon.ca
  • $7.90

When you're writing about the peculiar and manufactured world of Formula One, using a comic book format doesn't seem too out of place.

And former Williams Grand Prix Holdings chairman Adam Parr used it effectively to give racing fans a glimpse of the inner workings of the sport in his book called The Art of War – Five Years in Formula One.

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The book is remarkable in several ways. The use of the graphic novel genre for a non-fiction work remains rare and Parr's book is likely the first to do so in sport. In addition, it recounts a story that is so fresh that it is almost "news."

The result is a book that expertly pulls readers into the narrative in a way that may not have been possible in a traditional format.

"If I wrote that [Red Bull team boss] Christian Horner said 'x, y, z' or [F1 ringmaster] Bernie [Ecclestone] said 'a, b, c,' you might think that I, like a journalist, I would have to sort of verify my sources and so forth, but because I've done it as a comic book, one actually has the impression that they actually said it," Parr explained.

"I have a very good memory of the meetings that I attended and took notes – nobody has complained, even in jest, 'Hey look, I never said that' or whatever."

Parr joined the Williams team as chief executive in November 2006 with no real experience in racing after a successful career in the mining industry with Rio Tinto, heading its European operations before accepting the post in F1. He became chairman of Williams Grand Prix Holdings in July 2010 and remained in the post until he left early last year.

The comic book format also lends power to the writing because it allows distance from the events despite Parr being in the thick of the action. While he begins the book with a short personal synopsis of the main players' traits as he saw them, Parr keeps commentary to himself during the narrative and simply recounts the story of his dealings in what is known as the "piranha club."

His straightforward approach leaves readers to glean the important bits and to decide for themselves what they think of the characters and how they operate. Fittingly, the illustrations by British artist Paul Tinker reflect the subject matter perfectly through the use of many shades of grey with a flash of red here and there.

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"I'd like readers to enjoy the experience of seeing that world from the way I saw it from the inside and from a very specific perspective of someone trying to run a team," Parr said.

"I also think elements of my experience could be relevant to what they do: How you approach change and how to deal with difficult situations and difficult people, and maybe there are things there that people can pick up. And, finally, I would like those who love the sport to think about what it needs to do to be more successful, and I really would like to urge people who love the sport to take a bigger role in its future."

In his time in the paddock, Parr was seen by many as someone with interesting ideas that could change F1 for the better. Others, not so much.

The 47-year-old from London appeared to be one of the few decision-makers in F1 who clearly understood the value of fan engagement and accessibility in the sport, especially when it came to cracking the lucrative U.S. market.

In most respects, F1 is an extreme opposite to the majority of most U.S. sports in terms of accessibility, something Parr feels it must address if the series is ever going to make serious inroads there.

Unfortunately, those in charge – F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone and its governing Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) along with many of the team bosses – don't see a need for change and have resisted moves to open the sport.

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"What kind of a strange world is it that you don't think you can do better?" Parr asked. "It's almost an insane position to take regardless of how successful you are."

"I believe that F1, first of all, has to learn from other sports and, secondly, if it wants to be a big player in America, it's not going to do it by the model that currently exists."

Most of the story deals with the F1 budget cap that former FIA president Max Mosley had been trying to implement before he left the sport's governing body in 2009 and the subsequent efforts to implement some kind of cost cutting measures in F1.

There is a discernible feeling of frustration in the pages, as the story seems to turn on itself and almost end up at the beginning after months and months of tough negotiating and wrangling.

"I think the frustration is entirely with myself," Parr said.

"I feel that I didn't do what I needed to do and I feel it was my failing. I really feel that the things that we in Williams wanted to do were right for F1, but I regret the fact that we didn't succeed to the extent we should have. I think it [the budget cap] was the right thing to do and it should have been done."

The teams instead implemented a "resource restriction agreement, which limits spending in some areas, such as wind tunnel time and the use of computational fluid dynamics in car design, and puts a cap on the number of staff they can employ. Unfortunately, not all the teams seem too interested in respecting the agreement and there's no real penalty for those that don't.

Parr penned the book in the months following his resignation last March after, as he wrote, "rightly or wronging believing that Ecclestone had told my board that no Concorde offer would be forthcoming while I was running Williams."

The Concorde Agreement is the contract signed between the teams and Ecclestone's Formula One Management which governs the commercial side of F1. It essentially outlines who gets what part of the revenue pie.

Six weeks after he resigned, the Spanish Grand Prix saw Williams driver Pastor Maldonado score the team's first victory in almost eight years, something Parr described as "the best moment of my working life."

The last driver to win for Williams was Juan Pablo Montoya in the 2004 season finale in Brazil.

Parr feels his eventual downfall was his no-nonsense style, which some saw as confrontational, and something he would change if he had the chance to do things again. But, he added quickly, he'd still push for the same things he did the first time.

"I just looked at what I thought was in the interests of my team and the sport in general and just tried to do that," he said.

"The issue in my view is – not amongst everybody, but amongst the teams and to some extent the FIA – there is a lack of imagination and sense about what is in the interests of the sport."

For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone (No login required!)

Twitter: @jpappone

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About the Author
Motorsports columnist

There's an old saying about timing being everything in racing and Jeff Pappone's career as a motorsport correspondent shows that it also applies to journalists covering the sport too. More

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