|My Greatest Defeat: Stories of hardship and hope from motor racing’s finest heroes by Will Buxton|
|© 2019, published by Evro|
|ISBN 9781910505403 (Hardcover)|
Formula 1 fans around the world will know Will Buxton’s high-energy broadcasting and commentary from his GP2 Series, NBC and – today – his video pieces produced for Formula 1’s official platforms. There are few people who live and breathe the sport in the way that Will does, and his story of how he got into one of the highest-profile media roles in F1 is the subject of our mega profile interview with him which you can read here.
Will is also a very talented writer and his new book, My Greatest Defeat, is a compelling collection of honesty and revelation as told by twenty acclaimed racing drivers who have enjoyed success in the world of Formula 1, IndyCar, NASCAR, Le Mans and rallying.
These drivers – among whom the likes of Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Dario Franchitti, Jeff Gordon, Mika Häkkinen, Damon Hill, Niki Lauda, Sébastien Loeb, Felipe Massa, Jackie Stewart, and Alex Zanardi are featured – are all celebrated for their achievements on the track.
Yet all have faced, and conquered, their darkest moments. These stories are the foundation of My Greatest Defeat.
“I was watching The 24 Hour War [the acclaimed documentary chronicling Ford and Ferrari’s battles at Le Mans] and it hit me really square in the face that the best stories in our sport aren’t about victory, they’re about defeat,” he told MotorsportM8.
“Dusting yourself off and coming back, trying again and the lessons you learn and the strength that you build through defeat. The original idea [of My Greatest Defeat] was to talk to racing drivers about the race where it was all going great and then the engine blew on the last lap, but it quickly turned into something completely different, which was a collection of human stories about things far deeper than simple race results.”
The shift in focus came with Buxton’s very first interview for the book, with none other than racing’s iconic survivor: three-time F1 World Champion Niki Lauda.
“You’d expect [Niki’s story] to be from 1976 and the fiery crash at the Nürburgring, and coming back in 1977 to Ferrari not wanting him. It wasn’t that – it came from running Lauda Air and the loss of a flight over Thailand, where everyone was killed.”
The cause of the accident was attributed to an unexpected deployment of an engine’s reverse thruster mid-flight; aircraft manufacturer Boeing refused to admit any liability and tried to pin the blame on the flight’s pilots and the engine manufacturer. With the reputation of his airline at stake, Lauda – himself a qualified pilot – demonstrated in repeated simulator tests that such a malfunction was irrecoverable, and successfully forced Boeing to issue a a statement accepting fault and in turn make sweeping changes to aircraft design to prevent such an accident again.
“At that point I realised that while the subject matter was racing the drivers, the story might not be racing,” Buxton continued.
“It became something completely different and just racing drivers and the greats of our sport talking about the moment that they lost it all. How they hit rock bottom and pulled themselves out of it and it changed them, how it framed their lives and changed their racing careers or changed their lives in years after racing.”
As Lauda’s own story showed, few of the drivers’ stories were what Buxton expected them to tell.
“Alex Zanardi also had this huge moment in his life but he said his accident, losing his legs [in an horrific collision at the Lausitzring CART race in 2001], was one of the best things to happen to him because it allowed him to unlock potential within himself that he might never had done had it not happened,” Buxton recalls.
“What happened with Alex is that we got into this very philosophical debate about, and his lowest moment was actually coming back into Formula 1 with Williams in 1999 and how that went to hell, how in life, it’s very difficult to make a decisions for the right reasons.
“How when looking back, with hindsight, you can see why you made a decision for the wrong reasons but at the time how careful you have to be to decipher between your passion and your ambition, because they’re very closely related but they set you on completely different paths. Your ambition might set you on something quite selfish while your passion might set you on something which feeds your soul.
“For him, when he lost his legs, he didn’t have a choice in what he did next; he had to follow a path. In that moment, when you don’t have the luxury of having to choose whether to follow your passion or your ambition, then it’s really important that you try and find a passion in what you do. For Alex, he loved engineering and tinkering with things; it was working with the guys to create better functioning prosthetic limbs: that’s where he found his passion, constantly tinkering.”
The process of writing My Greatest Defeat, Buxton added, forced him to introspect. Reading it will do the same.
“We all face obstacles in life and we all face hurdles and they can seem incredibly difficult. We exist in this very macho, manly world of motorsport but we’re also coming in to a time where men are being told it’s OK to struggle and to admit that you’re not doing alright,” he explains.
“If I could show that these great, manly heroes who aren’t supposed to have a weakness – who aren’t supposed to show emotion or fallibility – that they can be honest about it and show that they struggle then it might help others to find that solace and understanding that they can get through whatever shit they’re going through.
“We see the overalls and the helmets and the daring-do out on track with these amazing gladiators but they’re also people.”
My Greatest Defeat is available in all good book retailers and online.