Book Review: Total Competition by Ross Brawn and Adam Parr

By Winding Road Staff

February 22, 2017

If you like books that give an "inside look" on racing, you'll probably like Total Competition. It mainly discusses Formula One, but the discussion happens between two very high level recent participants. The first of these is Ross Brawn, who ran Mercedes F1, won the drivers and constructors titles in 2009 with Jenson Button, won both titles with Micheal Schumacher (5 times with Ferrari and twice with Benetton), as well as titles with Williams and a Le Mans win with Jaguar. Intriguingly, Brawn is interviewed by Adam Parr who was the CEO of Williams Formula One from 2006 to 2012. Both authors have seen inside the head of the beast, which is pretty rare as these things go.

The book is loosely structured around a set of principles that derive from Sun Tzu's Art of War. Upon reading, that seems somewhat incidental, with the principles simply acting as stimuli for what amounts to a book length interview of Brawn. In the end, that's not a bad thing, because Brawn has not only gone toe to toe with Bernie Ecclestone, he has designed complete race cars and worked as a mechanic, so he brings lots of examples and stories to the table. At the same time, these guys are stylistically more "Oxbridge" than "The Sun", so if you're looking for salacious scoops, you'll be disappointed.

You also have to dig a bit for the insights. Not that Brawn is hiding anything, but the book doesn't provide page after page of blinding insights that knock you out of your chair. What we began to see though, is that the team leaders, and Brawn was arguably the most successful of these, making thousands of decisions each year. What makes Brawn a winner and someone else a back marker is the pattern of focusing hard on the important things and making a higher percentage of the decisions correctly. In a sport like racing with extensive rules, especially in F1 where budgets are big and talent pools deep, that is almost bound to be the case. The tendency to thrown around the term "genius" is then a bit misleading. Perhaps that is the insight the book is aimed to deliver.

In any event, the book is pretty conversational and thus an easy read if you are a fan. It is available now on Kindle and in hardcover and comes out this summer in paperback.