Rich Energy Haas F1 team chief race engineer Ayao Komatsu has recently released a book in Japan, giving fans the inside line of what it’s like to work within Formula 1.
After working in elite motorsport for over 20 years with the likes of BAR Honda, Renault, Lotus and most recently Haas, Ayao was able to draw on these experiences when writing the book.
What inspired you to write a book on Formula 1?
“I was initially asked by the publisher to write a book about the car setup, but I didn’t think that was very good because it would be only be interesting to people really into engineering or motor racing already. I wanted it to appeal to a wider audience of people who may have their favourite sport as rugby or baseball but have a passing interest in motor racing.
“In Japan, some fans are really passionate about F1 and know all the core details, but they don’t get exposed to the wider picture of the sport. Some others are just interested in following their favourite drivers. I thought there was nothing that catered for this wide-ranging audience to give them more insight into what happens during a race weekend; both what the team and drivers are trying to achieve.
“Japan is quite a technical nation, so people often get excited about technical details which is great, but if that’s all I’d talk about then it would alienate casual groups of fans. When I watched Formula 1 in the late 80s, I was interested in the technical side, but the human side of emotions, of Piquet, Senna, Mansell and Prost made it even more interesting and I think regular people relate to drivers’ emotions, human aspect, if you like. I also remember Honda’s last race in Suzuka on TV, you could clearly see the emotions of Honda employees and what it meant to them.
“When the Netflix guys first came to the factory about two years ago [to pose the idea of ‘Drive to Survive’], their idea of putting human side of the sport was the same as what I wanted my book to do for a Japanese audience. After speaking to them, I was encouraged and convinced that this is the correct direction for the book.
“Formula 1 is not the easiest sport to understand from the outside. If you look at motorcycle racing, it’s obvious that it’s hard, the same with rallying, it looks very difficult to ride / drive like they do. If you don’t know much about motorsport, single seater racing like Formula 1 doesn’t look as difficult.
“But if you look at a wet qualifying in Monza where you can’t see anything in front of you going flat out at 340kph, it’s clearly pretty challenging. I wanted to give people some insight, so they can relate to it and understand the sport better.”
What type of topics and themes do you approach in your book?
“At the start of the book I talk about what Formula 1 is in very general terms, and where it fits in with other types of motorsport in the world. It then tries to relate to people’s everyday lives and compares why their road cars are different to that of a Formula 1 car.
“I know in Japan currently; GT racing is more popular than Formula racing. I initially couldn’t understand that because I think formula racing is a purer form of motorsport. Some of my friends told me that they like GT racing because those cars look “similar” to the cars they drive in daily life. So, at the start of the book, I try to relate what we do in Formula 1, to what they know in real life road cars.
“I then go into talking about the setup of a car but do it in a fairly basic sense. I had to strike a balance though so it makes sense for people who don’t have huge interest in engineering / mechanics, but at the same time, it has enough details for those who are more into engineering, still find it interesting.
“I explain how Formula 1 teams are structured. I didn’t specifically write about Haas, but generically about Formula 1 explaining that some teams are bigger than others, and how their structure may differ. I wanted to put across how much effort is needed behind-the-scenes just to put two cars out on track for a race weekend.
“I also talk about the long working hours for the mechanics and engineers on a weekend. Not many fans know why spend so many hours working after “only” 3 hours of running on Friday. Some don’t even realise we change the engine and gearbox on Friday night, so I wanted to explain why we do things like this.”
You don’t get a lot of free time working in Formula 1. Where did you find the time to write the book?
“The publisher first approached me three years ago, but I only started writing it in Christmas 2017. It took me a while to begin because I didn’t know how to start the book, but once I settled on a starting topic and began to write, it really got rolling.
“I wrote the first portion that Christmas and continued in the summer break in 2018, then finished it off last Christmas. The book ended up being released on Baku weekend this year.”
As you say, you’ve written the book for a Japanese audience, but do you think in the future, it may be translated into other languages?
“Possibly, but if you take England as an example, I think fans are a bit more informed because there is better media coverage, so they hear about the sport more and are able to understand it easier. In Japan, the last full-time F1 driver we had was Kamui Kobayashi, so not as many people understand the recent landscape of Formula 1 because it’s not shown in the media as much.
“At the moment there are no plans to translate the book, but it has been selling well in Japan. Amazon’s first allocation has sold out, so they are having to re-stock, so that’s very good news.”
It seems being an author runs in the family too, as your father also had books published in the past.
“Yes, he was a researcher of Beethoven’s music. I think he really felt that Beethoven’s music and life was in-sync with his own life. He then studied German and started researching Beethoven’s letters to understand why he made these symphonies and sonatas. He then started publishing his research on 18th century society.
“He ended up writing several books on Beethoven’s music and letters. After my dad passed away, my mum and I travelled Germany to follow in his footsteps and we visited a Beethoven museum in Bonn and found out that his book was there, so that was a emotional moment as a family!”
The book has been an instant hit, with the first batch on sale via Amazon selling out in a matter of weeks.