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.