A Grand Prix Rejects Author: An Interview with Ibrar Malik

Ibrar Malik has been a member of the GP Rejects forum for a number of years now, and has recently written a book about the fascinating, intriguing, eventful and controversial 1994 Formula One season. It was published by Performance Publishing in January 2019.

Hi Ibrar. How did you become interested in Formula 1? When was it? Who were your favourite teams and drivers?

I vividly remember when [Roland] Ratzenberger and [Ayrton] Senna died, and the massive media hysteria afterwards questioning whether F1 was too dangerous. As a 12-year-old kid, I didn’t understand all the politics but I remember thinking ‘F1 drivers must have been extremely brave and loved what they did to carrying on despite the risks involved’. That, and the emerging rivalry between [Michael] Schumacher and [Damon] Hill attracted me to the sport. I remember watching the ’94 Japanese GP and just being awe-inspired by those last few laps; nail biting doesn’t even come close!

Most of my childhood was spent playing racing games, like Grand Prix 2 on the PC. That was when I was bitten hard by the racing bug. In fact, I broke a few keyboards, from having pressed the accelerator key too much! My childhood hero was Jean Alesi, and my favourite race of his was the 1995 Japanese Grand Prix, classic Alesi wasn’t it? My friends used to give me stick for being an Alesi supporter as he only ever won one Grand Prix (the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix) and occasionally did silly things. But for me he was exciting to watch, as you never knew if he would be driving an amazing next race or do something stupid, like running out of fuel.”

'Oh, Jean, you may well look a bit worried, you've got a major problem, sunshine.'

‘Oh, Jean, you may well look a bit worried, you’ve got a major problem, sunshine!’

How long have you been following the GP Rejects website? How did you find us?

It was the “Appreciating Alesi” article on the old site that first made me become aware of the site around 2006 / 2007. Having read the other blogs, I immediately knew this was home to some knowledgeable F1 fans. I loved contributing to the forum since 2010, precisely because the other members knew what they were talking about, and more importantly were honest when they didn’t know things. As a result of that latter point, I can’t recall seeing too many arguments descend into nastiness on GP Rejects, which is the reason it is one of my favourite forums. Everyone seems respectful of each other and maintain their manners when debating subjects, which means conversations are always more fun & interesting as a result. This is the reason I have given the  forum a bit of my research on 1994 in numerous threads and would like to post & contribute more regularly. However, unfortunately time these days doesn’t allow it, however I do still check back when I can, and hope to carry on contributing when time permits in future.

What was your inspiration to write a book on the 1994 season?

This book arose because there is constant innuendo about how Schumacher and Benetton cheated in 1994, with heated debates on F1 forums about how sound those accusations are. So I started researching this subject a few years ago, purely because I needed to know the truth. I remember debating 1994 with other GP Rejects forum members. I soon found the more I uncovered about the behind the scenes politics, the more motivated I became to dig even deeper and place those findings within the public domain. A book was the best way to do this because the politics that year were complicated, hence why you have to understand how things unfolded race by race. Today it’s easy to view 1994 with the benefit of hindsight. However, by reliving the season in the detail only a book can allow readers will appreciate certain things better, like the correlation between the politics and controversies.

Possibly the only known photo of Senna and Ratzenberger side by side, 1994 Pacific GP practice. (Photo: @1990sF1 on Twitter)

Possibly the only known photo of Senna and Ratzenberger side by side, 1994 Pacific GP practice. (Photo: @1990sF1 on Twitter)

Also, because the book discusses both sides to the 1994 controversies it, therefore, allows the reader to decide for themselves what really happened without them becoming involved in a heated internet forum argument. In my opinion, the current books covering 1994 only touch upon the controversies and they don’t usually address the opposing side’s arguments. But the best way to find out how true an allegation is is by analysing it in detail, which will either result in it standing up to scrutiny or that allegation falling apart like a cheap suit. Which is what the upcoming book does with all the 1994 controversies, whilst also including fresh insights from those involved in the story.

Admittedly I’ve never written a book before nor considered myself a writer or even had any childhood aspirations to become one. The primary reason behind this book is to record and discuss the mind-blowing/exclusive content unearthed within the book, whilst placing it within the public domain for further debate. To date the book is receiving lots of excellent reviews.

Is there anything in the book that may be of interest to the readers of the GP Rejects website? What are the reject highlights?

There is lots within the book that will be of interest to the GP rejects website. Firstly the book is dedicated to Roland Ratzenberger (the only book I am aware that is).  On my site 1994 F1 you’ll also see there are some other blogs of interest to GP Rejects members (i.e. how the 1994 the Pacific was a less refined version of the Benetton etc). There are also lots of great ‘rejectful stories’ within the book, I’ll exclusively give you guys an extract of the book showing you what I mean.

The Prancing Horse was in the thick of it in 1994. 26 years later, you could argue nothing's changed!

The Prancing Horse was mired in controversy during 1994. 26 years later, you could argue nothing’s changed!

“ Portugal 1994, was one race Ferrari came close to withdrawing from following an altercation with officials. Around 10 pm on the Friday evening, some mechanics tried leaving the circuit following a long day, Andrew Reedie from Pacific Grand Prix explained what happened. “So it was a late night for us at Pacific and for Ferrari too. The hire cars were parked outside the track behind the pit straight stand. Three of us had gone to wash up and so we were a few minutes later than the rest of the boys leaving. We walked through the tunnel under the track as the track staff closed the gates. We had an argument with them but they refused to open the gate again. With that, the Ferrari boys arrived and it all got a bit Italian. Realising we were going to get nowhere and worried we would get left behind, we started to go back when the boys in red started kicking the doors in.”

“Then the police arrived and they have guns so we legged it and ran across the track and jumped the fence. The Ferrari lads broke the gate down and streamed out of the tunnel. The next day all hell broke loose but we just denied everything even though we started the argument. That’s when the fine was handed down after an investigation.” For breaking down a locked door, Ferrari was fined $50,000. In addition, Ferrari would be banned from a race should a similar incident occur during a subsequent event. If you are beginning to wonder whether the sport lost its marbles in 1994, you wouldn’t be alone. Ferrari was livid at the excessiveness of this penalty for something they described as an “insignificant incident”.

The Italian team’s anger was evident within its subsequent press release. “Ferrari has been subjected to a ridiculous and unacceptable penalty by the stewards of the Portuguese Grand Prix. An appeal has already been lodged against the decision, but in the meantime, Ferrari would point out that the stewards’ action definitely shows a total lack of credibility and seriousness in Formula 1, which has been evident since the start of the season. The right thing to do would be to withdraw its drivers and cars from the event and return immediately to Maranello. Ferrari will not do this only out of respect for its motorsport enthusiasts around the world.” F1 News joked the FIA might have been more lenient if Ferrari had blamed the incident on a “junior employee”, or produced a letter from the door manufacturer showing drawings of how to kick the door down (following Benetton’s Hockenheim fuel fire hearing). Ferrari eventually withdrew its appeal in the “interests of F1” and raced at Portugal”

Who have been your main contributors? Have you been able to get any ‘big names’ involved?

The book contains exclusive contributions from former F1 driver Mark Blundell, Benetton insiders; Willem Toet, Frank Dernie, Simon Morley (the “junior employee” blamed for the Hockenheim fire), Christian Silk & Joan Villadelprat. Antony John Dennis (a Benetton-Ford electronics expert) and Williams’ insiders Paul West & Richard Wise. It has over 250 photos which help bring this story to life and many are rare. Readers have all been astonished at what is unearthed. As a result the book has got a few famous fans as well…

Ukyo Katayama starred for Tyrrell in 1994, while Mark Blundell (pictured) scored the team's last podium finish at Spain that year. (Photo: @1990sF1 on Twitter)

Ukyo Katayama starred for Tyrrell in 1994, while Mark Blundell (pictured) scored the team’s last podium finish at Spain that year. (Photo: @1990sF1 on Twitter)

How were you able to fit in writing a book around your day job and day-to-day life?

It wasn’t easy, in fact it was by far the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my 37 years on this planet. It was so hard that I initially took a sabbatical and then resigned from my day job purely to write this book. That is how passionate I am about it and what is uncovered! When you have a passionate for something you just do whatever is needed to get that thing done. Many readers have remarked how my passion for this subject makes the book a better read for them.

What were the biggest challenges involved in producing the book?

The biggest challenge has been getting a publisher involved. Performance Publishing always ensure that any book they take on will be a high quality, professional product. It is also extremely rare that an unknown author like myself is ‘traditionally published’, which underlines how amazing the content is. I started contacting publishers at the end of 2017, and got rejected more than 30 times which was very stressful at times.

From that process, I learnt how important it is to build up an author platform and show your potential readers that you know your subject. Since March 2018, I’ve been writing blog posts on my website – which are usually released at the beginning of each month. So far they’ve been well received and each month more websites are willing to post these blogs on their respective sites.

Another challenge was sending hundreds of emails whilst attempting to organise interviews and only receiving a few replies. But as I said earlier, if you have a passion for something you just keep going. Persistence, organisation and passion for the subject you are writing about are absolutely vital if you’re going to write a book.

Like Ibrar, the Pacific team demonstrated lots of passion

Like Ibrar, the Pacific team also demonstrated lots of passion and persistence. Organisation though…the jury’s out on that!

Do you have any plans for the future to write any more books?

Yes. An audiobook of 1994 has recently been released, which you can find here.  It is around half of the content of the printed book (due to certain telemetry traces & illustrations which cannot be explained via audio), but is a great halfway house for those unable to obtain the print book.

Beyond that, I do have a second book in mind which would be a nice follow up subject to this book. Whilst I can’t give away any more details on that second book at the moment more details will be announced soon. Alternatively if readers sign up here you’ll get that second book announcement emailed directly to you in due course. For any fans of F1 during the 1980’s to 2000’s this second book certainly would be of interest to you so please stay tuned.

If people are interested, how can they obtain a copy of your book?

You can order the book and read a free sample of it here. There will be a limited number of books initially being printed so I would highly recommend ordering sooner rather than later to avoid missing out. Depending on demand, the print run may remain limited, so those who have that first edition copy may find the book increases in value over time as a result.

Thank you for your time!

Postscript: Ibrar Malik’s second book, Team Lotus: Beyond the Colin Chapman Era was released a few weeks ago. The print version can be ordered from here, and the audio book from here.