I’m not in the habit of writing reviews of other books on this blog, but Will Buxton’s My Greatest Defeat makes for a worthy exception.
Over the last 20 years I’ve been hunting down the world’s greatest sportspeople in a bid to understand what goes through their minds when they find the magical state of peak performance. But it’s time to admit I may have been missing a trick, because it’s in our moments of despair that we learn the most – and the greats are not exempt.
Buxton has spoken to 20 of global motor sport’s all-time legends about their lowest points. As it happens I’ve been lucky enough to interview all but two of them myself, yet such is the quality of these exchanges I’ve learned something new about every single one of his subjects – from Alex Zanardi to Jimmie Johnson, Alain Prost to Sébastien Loeb.
Each of the drivers opens up about what they learned from their personal disaster, showing how willing they were to buy into this project – not to mention the author’s skills in putting them at ease to talk. And it’s not just about the racetrack, with the late Niki Lauda notably delving into his own darkest hour after one of his Lauda Air planes crashed in Thailand, killing everyone on board.
I’ll resist being the source of any spoilers, but there is plenty of wisdom to be found from Mika Hakkinen, Jeff Gordon et al, plus some surprising revelations along the way from the likes of Rick Mears. What becomes abundantly clear is that every one of these drivers is a human being like the rest of us. And it is a steady diet of defeat that sets each of them up for any eventual, hard-earned, oh-so-sweet taste of victory.
The best part is that Buxton lets them speak for themselves and allows the conversations to flow out onto the page. It’s a throwback to the extended form of interviewing that we could see even on TV chat shows back in the days before it was deemed that we don’t have the attention spans to cope.
Rest assured we do.
To be really picky, we might want to hear from more of the current crop of F1 megastars, because defeat is no stranger to any of us, young or old. But no doubt Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are already being lined up for the sequel.
A final point: the book itself is a work of art thanks to the striking cover design and brooding individual portraits of each driver by DC and Marvel comic book artist Giuseppe ‘Cammo’ Camuncoli.
A man used to depicting superheroes with a dark tale to tell…
My Greatest Defeat by Will Buxton is out now
Thank you very much to Race Driver Coach Enzo Mucci for posting the first video review of In The Zone as part of his outstanding podcast series. Enzo is an expert in the field of racing driver training, having worked with many current stars of motor sport all the way up to Formula 1. Now he is working to spread what he has learned from his decades of helping the elite to the rest of us - all via his new project The Striver's Club. If you need a dose of motivation to get going with your own dream there is no better place to get started...
We're thrilled to announce that In The Zone has been included in Amazon Kindle's Monthly Deals for September. Now's your chance to read the thoughts of 100 sporting superstars on how they live their dreams and peak for their big moments - including Bolt, Phelps, Djokovic, Hamilton, Comaneci, Desailly, Ennis-Hill, McCaw, Hoy, Moses, Hagler, Klammer and Freeman - all for £1.19!
This fantastic news follows last month's interview with the wonderful Chris Evans on the BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show which remains available on iPlayer for the next few days...
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.
The first online reviews of In The Zone have now appeared, so thank you very much to motorsport.com and LoveTennisBlog.com.
‘In The Zone is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the psychological principles behind a Who’s Who of great athletes, from Novak Djokovic to Nadia Comaneci to Usain Bolt to Michael Phelps. But the conclusion is that anyone can attain the Zone... as long as we dare to dream big.’
Read more at motorsport.com
‘In this fascinating read, Clyde Brolin reminds us just how powerful our mind is. The descriptions of being in the Zone are almost spiritual and Brolin uncovers fantastic nuggets of advice for those who “dare to dream”. This book is hard to put down…’
Read more at LoveTennisBlog.com
How the three-pound lump can be controlled (by Edd Straw, Editor-in-Chief Autosport magazine)
It’s rare that Autosport reviews a ‘general’ sports book. But while myriad voices and case studies are drawn in from a wide range of disciplines, author Clyde Brolin never loses the grounding in motorsport that you would expect from someone who worked for so long in Formula 1.
In among the sprinters, tennis players, skiers and gymnasts are plenty of familiar names from motorsport. And with the central theme being a study of what happens when athletes are mentally ‘in the zone’, this is a book that gives anyone with a desire to understand what goes on in the brains of the world’s top racers real insight.
In The Zone is the sequel to Overdrive: Formula 1 in the Zone. Published in 2010, this was based on more than 100 interviews with racers, and this new book builds on that groundwork. Brolin was inspired by veteran F1 journalist Gerald Donaldson’s famous interview with Ayrton Senna, in which the Brazilian talked about the out-of-body experience of being in the zone on his legendary pole lap for the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix. This is the phenomenon explored to the nth degree and broadened to encompass all of sport.
That there are so many voices in this book could result in a disjointed read, and perhaps some may find it that way. But the joy of In The Zone is that, while you know you’re going to end up delving into the mind of yet another big name when you turn over the page, you never know what character is waiting around the corner. At one stage Brolin takes us in the space of a few paragraphs from Derek Warwick qualifying an Arrows sixth for the 1989 Monaco Grand Prix to Nigeria-born concert pianist Glen Inanga. Via a wedding.
The thematic connections, like the neural connections of top athletes, work well. Although built around a structure of chapters grouped into sections entitled ‘conceive, believe, achieve’, the linear progression is secondary to what is more of a web of insight that’s built up with ideas and experience tying into each other.
For example, early on alpine-skiing legend Franz Klammer explains that “being in the zone is when everything is in slow motion so you have all the time in the world… it’s not about the skill. Of course you have to have some ability, but basically it is the will. It’s also crucial to have no fear of defeat.”
Later, there are echoes of this from 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi. “At such high speed, if you operate solely on a conscious level you’d be too slow to react. So you no longer think about driving, until it becomes second nature. That’s when you perform at your best.”
Then there’s Red Bull Air Race world champion Paul Bonhomme, who connects to Klammer’s point with a telling aphorism.
“Say you’re a point off your rival,” says Bonhomme. “Do you have it within you to say, ‘I’m not going to try too hard. It doesn’t matter whether I win or lose?’ You need an ‘I don’t need to win’ pill.”
Imagine layer upon layer of such insight, and you have a feel for what In The Zone offers. With regular appearances from big names in motorsport (the introduction zeroes in on JR Hildebrand throwing away the 2011 Indy 500 at the last corner), this is a must-read for anyone who craves a deeper understanding of how the three-pound lump in the driver’s head can be controlled, or cause you to lose control.
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.