Chances are, most of us are never going to have a chance to step foot on a Formula One pit lane—let alone even, y’know, walk into a factory. It’s a good thing we’ve got guys like Steve Matchett, then, who can tell us all about his experiences so that it’s like we were hanging out there the whole time.
(Welcome back to the Jalopnik Race Car Book Club, where we all get together to read books about racing and you send in all your spicy hot takes. This month, we’re looking at The Mechanic’s Tale by Steve Matchett, which is probably the only book you’ll ever read that gets candid about the down-and-dirty of the stuff you don’t see in F1.)
The Mechanic’s Tale was released in 2000 by former Formula One mechanic Steve Matchett. If you recognize that name, it’s probably because you’ve watched NBCSN’s F1 broadcasts. Matchett considers this book to be the second of an autobiographical trilogy that describes his life’s journey, which is a pretty neat idea coming from someone who, according to this book, hadn’t really written much of anything until his time in F1.
Matchett’s story seems almost too good to be true. If you start out in the first chapter, you’re reading about a man living with his parents working at a dealership—the kind of thing that plenty people out there do all the time. By the last chapter, Matchett is an F1 mechanic who has been a part of 25 race wins and three championships, a man who has worked with drivers like Michael Schumacher. How the heck did that happen?
Easy! Matchett sent a letter out to F1 teams offering his services as a race mechanic. No big deal.
Yeah—I was just as blown away as the rest of you. F1 is constantly posited as an incredibly elite sport. It seems untouchable. I’ve never really considered how people might end up in the pit lane, but I’ve assumed it must be an incredibly difficult journey that requires, like, multiple aerospace degrees and a lot of money and a network of very well-connected people who can talk you into things.
Matchett didn’t have that. He just had a dream and the determination to make it a reality, and he had the paper to send out letters. The fact that he even got an interview—let alone multiple—kinda blows my mind. Matchett was interviewed by Benetton and Onyx before being offered a position at Benetton. After that, it was just a matter of course of progressing up the ranks, from factory lackey to pit-lane mechanic.
I think one of my favorite things about this book is that it takes itself seriously—but it’s not too in-your-face about it. Matchett’s writing style is very conversational and is tinged with his very specific sense of British humor that downplays the hardships of the racing world with a wry smile. He’s up-front about the pain he endured in, say, the back injury he sustained in 1996 trying to lift the car—but still manages to toss in the humorous experiences that took place at the same time.
It’s a humble story. You can really tell that Matchett wasn’t taking his time in the F1 paddock for granted. He cherished every second, both the good and the bad, and didn’t get that holier-than-thou attitude that sometimes gets associated with the closed-off world of F1.
Matchett also gives some really great insights into the mind of racers like Michael Schumacher. You can definitely see that this is a man destined for a career as a commentator as he offers analysis on what it is, exactly, that set this incredible German driver apart from his contemporaries. At one point, Matchett praises George Orwell for his attention to detail and ability to paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. In my personal opinion, I think Matchett has achieved something similar in his own work—he colors his experiences with a kind of personability and friendliness that makes it feel like you’re right there next to him.
That’s all I’ve got for now. It’s time to pass the torch off to the rest of y’all to see what you had to say!
I didn’t know what to expect when I bought The Mechanic’s Tale. I only knew of Steve Matchett due to his occasional appearances on NBCSN’s IndyCar coverage. From page 1 I loved the book, I don’t know what it was, his style of writing or what he was writing about but I was enthraled throughout. It had the perfect mix of technical explanations, stories and recounting what happened over the years. Overall a great read and would recommend.
p.s. I can’t be the only one who was reading parts of the book impersonating Steve’s beautiful voice.
And that’s all we have for this month’s Jalopnik Race Car Book Club! Make sure you tune in again on August 4! We’re going to be reading The Unfair Advantage by Mark Donohue, a book that’s been requested by plenty of y’all!
Don’t forget to leave your thoughts in the comments or send ‘em to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll see you next month!