Recapturing life on the limit

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A motor racing book with a difference has struck a chord as we edge closer to the most anticipated Formula 1 season for years. It’s called Overdrive: Formula 1 in the Zone and it’s different because this isn’t a motor racing story per se, rather a 10-year study of an intangible. ‘In the zone’ is a sporting cliché these days, describing the nirvana of hitting the sweet spot of performance, and it’s almost impossible to quantify, especially in an environment where man must be in sync with machine to reach it. As the book highlights, this state is at the heart of what every racing driver is searching for, and yet in a sport based on clinical, incontrovertible physics, a deeper understanding of the ‘wishy-washy’ psychological bit in the middle – the human being and thus the biggest variable in the mix – can be overlooked.

Of the many interviews with drivers past and present in this book, a few lines from Fernando Alonso stand out. When asked whether a trip to ‘the zone’ is better than winning a world title, he says: “Winning a race or a championship leads to recognition from everybody. So it is good for self-confidence because everybody thinks you are doing well. But from the inside, when it comes to the personal feeling that is inside your heart and inside your mind, this feeling is perhaps better.”

Now, Alonso makes such a claim from the comfortable – and rare – position of actually having achieved what he set out to do, and at Ferrari he’ll only add to his record, especially if winter testing is anything to go by. But there is a universal truth in what he says. Winning is everything? Yes, but it’s the journey that matters more than the destination.

That is certainly the case for Michael Schumacher. An eighth world title is the goal, but his amazing comeback is actually fuelled by a desire to taste that old feeling again, to be living on the limit in a realm most of us can only imagine. As Adam Cooper’s excellent story on page 56 suggests, Schumacher’s not worried about tarnishing his reputation up against the most competitive field of rivals he has known. He’s doing this for all the right reasons, which is why his return has captured our attention so completely.

Alonso once said “F1 is no longer a sport”. He had good reason, in the wake of the disgraceful blocking penalty he received after qualifying at Monza in 2005. Fortunately, he was wrong. Despite the tortuous politics, the high financial stakes, the cynicism of Bernie Ecclestone, the depressing controversies and all the rest, Grand Prix racing has somehow retained its essence – despite itself. At its heart, once all the peripheral stuff has played out, is a gripping human story of driver against driver – and just as importantly, driver against himself.

The quest for Schumacher, Alonso and the rest to reach that zone is exactly why March 14 and the start in Bahrain can’t come soon enough.

Motor Sport exists to capture that spirit of competition, and this passion has been at the heart of every issue since 1924. Which is why we felt justified in launching something new – our Hall of Fame, to celebrate the rich sporting heritage that fills our pages every month, in a fresh and enjoyable way.

You can read about the Hall of Fame’s grand opening, held at the Roundhouse on February 10, on page 40. We hope it will be the first such gathering in what will become an established and eagerly anticipated curtain-raiser for every season to come. Our thanks go to everyone who made it possible, to our special guests who joined us on the night and to all who have inspired the true spirit of racing over the years.

Damien Smith, Editor

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