Aussie Grit (Your Teeth to Read This Book)
Mark Webber is many things. He’s a success story, an incredible inspiration, a race car driver who defied the odds over and over, a small boy from rural Australia who rose the ranks, a friend, a teammate, and more. He’s all these things, but he’s not a writer.
The problem with Mark Webber, Aussie Grit: My Formula One Journey is not the content. There is no denying that the story of Webber’s rise to success and stardom, as well as his inspirational journey through the hardships of sponsorship and celebrity, is an incredible one. He’s done a great many things in life to marvel at, and if the reader is able to focus upon the actions of his life, the relationships he formed, the challenges he overcame, well the story is truly a wonder to behold.
Unfortunately, in order to do that, the reader must look past the writing, and in Aussie Grit looking past the writing is a damned difficult thing to do.
In fairness, Webber starts out the book with an interesting and visceral shot of being inside a cockpit of a Grand Prix car. He gives the reader a sense of the danger and anticipation that greet him at the start of every race, and sets a precedent for how he will describe the actual act of racing, or later on in the story, crashing, as he does several times.
When it comes to the description of sensory details, however, Webber’s peak is at the beginning. Each of his races is described in a sort of matter-of-fact manner that, had it been intermingled with the sensation of a car turning head over tail, might actually give us something to look forward to. Instead, we are laden down with the statistics and pole positions and facts that take the reader out of the cockpit and place them squarely back upon the sidelines. Well, that’s where we were to begin with, and if that’s where we’re staying then what is the point of a first person narration at all?
The writing style issues with this book don’t start and end with the sensation of flying through the air in a several million dollar supercar. Webber has two equally distracting styles of writing. One is the delightfully unchangeable sentence structure, that sounds something along the lines of a child trying to reach a word count for a school essay. First we did this. Then we raced. Then we did this. Then we won. Subject. Verb. Noun. Over. And. Over. And. Over.
Still, that is preferable to Webber’s other style of writing, which is more like a friend at a party trying to tell a story, but each new detail they introduce requires another story, before rejoining the main story line. He does this time and again through the book, giving the reader the next step in his journey, and then coming back around with a several page anecdote, before reminding us where we were and getting back on our way. Once in a while is fine. Much more than that is a distraction.
Another gripe is a bit more comical, and I confess a problem largely of my own circumstance. At the very end of the book, Webber thanks his ghost writer (!) for helping to ensure there aren’t too many ‘Webberisms’ within the book for a general audience. What he didn’t take into account was the translation between rural Australian dialect and the mass consuming public. Of course he’s Australian, and that factors heavily into his life and journey, but upon more than one occasion a sentence would appear and heads nor tails could be made of its infuriating surrender to hometown dialect.
Overall, the largest problem with Aussie Grit was that it seemed to be a story for those who already knew the story. Webber tells the tale as though he is speaking to an old friend, catching them up upon the recent events in his life, and giving details to a story already heard. While Webber was one of the foremost racers in Formula One, and one of its most inspirational success stories, by reading a story that feels preordained for his fans, casual F1 followers get the sense that they’ve been left from the party.
So is there anything redeeming about Aussie Grit? You can bet your spoiler there is. The value of this book is more subtle than its detriments, but in the opinion of this writer, it might just be worth the dig. Essentially, this book sits you down and says ‘you think you know racing? Let me tell you a little bit.’ It’s a deeply informative, highly inspirational story of a kid from nowhere – just like us – who rose the ranks through a combustible mixture of pure talent, impossible passion, and a little pinch of luck. For so many more reasons than racing cars, Mark Webber is fearless, from his days cold calling sponsors, to his keeping cool while careening through the air in little more than a cockpit. Hell, the amount of hope he retains through the story is reason enough to see it through to its end.
This books requires patience. At certain sections, one might feel like they’re reading only statistic after statistic, pole position after pole position, and written in a style that might drive you up the wall. But if you stick with it, and muscle through the lesser points of sentence structure, you’ll find yourself on a journey of excitement, hope, and success – the tale of one of racing’s foremost players of the modern age. There is much to know, and Webber will teach you from his own life experience, and his classroom on the tracks of the world stage, behind the desk of the fastest race cars imaginable. He may not be much of a writer, but he’s one hell of a racecar driver, and in the end, it doesn’t matter how his story was told, only that it was.