Thank you to the Red Bulletin for running a ten-page feature in their August edition (above) with quotes from many of the sporting superstars who I interviewed for In The Zone. You can read all about it in their UK, Switzerland and Mexico editions. You can also read the online version here...
Elsewhere Runner's World kindly made In The Zone their Book of the Month for August. The book also received a mention in August's F1 Racing while Autocar ran a British Grand Prix preview feature (below) on the racing mind based on my interviews with Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen and more. It can now be f0und online here...
I'm extremely grateful to all the media outlets who have given space to helped publicise the book and its message.
Jean Alesi knows what it is like to win – even if he only managed it once at the very top level of Formula 1, at the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix. This morning he discovered a brand new level of racing joy as he watched son Giuliano take his first GP3 victory, leading from lights to flag in the sprint race at Silverstone.
Yet when I spoke to Alesi senior earlier this weekend I discovered he is far from your archetypal ‘racing Dad’. Compared with his contemporary Jos Verstappen, who had Max racing in karts before the age of 5, the Alesi family was more easy-going and Giuliano made a very late start to his competitive action…
“Giuliano only did two years of karting because he only started when he was 13,” said Alesi. “He then had one year of Formula Ford and GP3 starting last year. Now he’s 17 so I think he’s still playing catch-up with a lot of his fellow competitors who started racing at a much younger age. Even so, I’m not like some former racers who wish their sons would do something different. I’m happy because he’s doing it.”
Of course hailing from such a racing lineage does help, not least in getting on the fast track to recognition with the sport’s big players. Giuliano is now in the Ferrari Driver Academy which has also nurtured 2017’s runaway F2 championship leader Charles Leclerc plus current F1 drivers Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll.
“At this young age it’s very important to have confidence between Giuliano and the people working with him,” adds Alesi. “For the physical training and the driving itself he is in very good surroundings with the Ferrari Driver Academy. With video and telemetry there are now so many ways to check what the other drivers are doing and how he compares. At this point that’s more important than talking to me.
“We have a very good relationship and of course I have the experience, but the only close talks we have are about how I was feeling at his age, when I was in Formula Renault and F3. The main thing we talk about is the mental side: the attitude, the approach, the way to prepare a weekend before you even get to a track.”
Another of the Ferrari Driver Academy’s graduates was the late Jules Bianchi, which begs the question of how it really feels for Jean Alesi to watch his son in action. Yet as an ex-racer safety is not his primary concern…
“It is very hard to watch Giuliano race,” he admits. “But I’m not worried about anything other than his performance. Of course I want the best for him and when I see his position is not what he should be, I am suffering…”
But – as the champagne dries into Giuliano Alesi's race-winning overalls – not on a day like today…
When a sports star is ‘in the zone’ we all know it. Whatever they touch turns to gold and any unlucky opponents are dazzled by a spell of pure sporting alchemy that leads to anything from a cricket century to a perfect 147 in snooker.
We can all see the results, but the view we get is nothing compared to what this feels like from the inside. When all those long years of training come flooding back out so perfectly, it can seem effortless – the most natural thing in the world.
Strange things start happening in the mind too. Time appears to slow down and space can even bend: tennis rackets and racing cars become mere extensions of the body. Sometimes the sensation is so extreme it feels like you’re not even doing it at all.
Ayrton Senna reported an apparent out-of-body experience as he went into overdrive during F1 qualifying at Monaco in 1988 – and it was the same for Novak Djokovic as he beat Andy Murray in the 2016 French Open final to complete his career Grand Slam.
“I don’t even remember what happened in the last point,” Djokovic said afterwards. “It’s like my spirit left my body and I was just observing it fight the last exchanges, hoping Andy would make a mistake, which is what happened. I’ve felt this autopilot very few times in my career, but it lasted longer in the 2012 Australian Open final with Rafael Nadal when we played for almost six hours.”
It was a week after the longest Grand Slam final in history (pictured above) that I first grabbed my chance to quiz Djokovic during my research for In The Zone. I wanted to hear how he conjured up the sleight of mind to recover the zone when things were slipping away at a break down in the final set in Melbourne...
“To be honest with you there are no tricks, there is just belief,” Djokovic told me. “Just believe and you find the mental push you need. In the fifth set of the Australian Open final there is no more thinking and no more physical strength you can rely on. It’s just about will to win; that power guides you to the end.”
Djokovic spent years as the unlucky No.3 behind Nadal and Roger Federer – yet he insists his leap to the top was prepared not in his biceps but his brain: “It seems a small step from semi-finals to winning but it’s huge,” he said. “Then suddenly, bang! In 2011 I started winning. It was a matter of believing I can win against the biggest rivals in the latter stages of the majors. That makes the difference in winning the match.”
Five years of domination – and one tough year – later, Djokovic has now discovered the doubts don’t stop at the top. Having failed to defend his French Open in June, he is back without a Grand Slam title yet again. But Federer’s nostalgic Melbourne win and Nadal's Paris triumph prove this belief can be as permanent as class.
Now, somehow, the Big Four are back as the top four seeds for Wimbledon. And, despite his win last week at Eastbourne, it could be argued that a Djokovic win would be the most surprising of all. The bookies agree, placing him at 6-1, behind Federer (2-1), Murray (7-2) and Nadal (4-1). We know the Serbian can find the heaven of the zone again, the big question is simply: How bad does he want it?
Adapted from this article for Tennis Head magazine...
Clyde Brolin spent over a decade working in F1 before moving on to the wider world of sport - all in a bid to discover the untapped power of the human mind.