“Driven to Crime: True Stories of Wrongdoing in Motor Racing” reviewed

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I’ll get the joke out of the way first – no, ‘Driven to Crime’ isn’t the first of a 3,000 volume set detailing the history of criminality connected to motorsport. Instead, this book is a whistle stop tour of some of motorsport’s more infamous characters who also found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

First-time author Crispian Besley has both the motorsport pedigree – having spent several decades racing immaculately prepared Formula Juniors – and a career at the top of the finance industry, which is perfectly for succinctly summarising some of the financial crimes covered.

Split into sixty-six chapters, each focusing on an individual, all the usual suspects are to be found, together with a few lesser-known stories. I can’t think of any prior publication that links former FIA president Jean-Marie Balestre and infamous Brands Hatch trespasser Jack Cottle (who, in mitigation, never got the credit for staying within track limits during his illicit intrusion onto a live race track).

For a relatively recent fan of the sport, ‘Driven to Crime’ is a treasure trove, unearthing characters and news items that have been quietly forgotten. Those involved in the sport for longer will still find plenty to enjoy – for example Bernie Ecclestone quietly manoeuvring to ensure Pablo Escobar-connected rookie Ricardo Londono didn’t get an F1 superlicence (although one could argue the Medellin Cartel were just a friendlier and less ruthless forerunner to F1 junior teams).

Besley’s writing brings two great qualities. Firstly, his ability to clearly and succinctly explain some highly-complex financial crimes means that would could easily be impenetrable passages are highly readable. Secondly, the nuance to his tone allows him to say a lot while objectively reporting the facts.

For those that strayed the wrong side of the law solely in order to advance legitimate motorsport activity, and without causing direct harm, there is a often comprehension that stops just short of empathy. Meanwhile utter disdain is shown to anyone who caused misery and hardship in order to fund their racing. The list of credits is also revealing in identifying which of the subjects provided direct support to the author, and generally these are the strongest sections allowing for a more rounded discussion.

Of course, there are then the omissions. Anyone who has spent time in a motorsport paddock would almost certainly be able to provide at least ten names that could be included – personally I can think of two where legal proceedings have been concluded that would have fitted well. In part this is because Besley has gone after the story, rather than the name. Sadly, my personal favourite story will never appear in print – although I’ve heard it consistently from several sources, it just won’t stand up.

The £40 price tag may put some off, but at over 500 pages at Evro quality it is well worth the money and would make a great Christmas present for a motorsport fan who wants to get off the driver biography treadmill.

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Rating four out of five

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Driven to Crime: True Stories of Wrongdoing in Motor Racing

Author: Crispian Besley
Publisher: Evro Publishing
Published: October 2022
Pages: 512
Price: £40
ISBN: 978-1-910505-70-0

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Ben Evans
Motorsport commentator Ben is RaceFans' resident bookworm. Look out for his verdict on the latest motor racing publications on Sundays....

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  • 6 comments on ““Driven to Crime: True Stories of Wrongdoing in Motor Racing” reviewed”

    1. Sadly, my personal favourite story will never appear in print – although I’ve heard it consistently from several sources, it just won’t stand up.

      @benevans please tell us what this story is! It sounds fascinating.

    2. Thanks for sharing ! F1 has always been circled by criminals, fraudsters and shady characters, no question about that. Though there is no centralized resource that tells all the crimes that happened in F1. Maybe the FOM don’t want these stories to come up so they don’t tarnish the reputation of the sport especially for the younger generation. I just hope the book goes into the fine details. Some of the stories that crossed my mind :

      – Bernie Ecclestone bribing the German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, $44m in 2006 in order to ease the sale of the bank’s share to a company that had guaranteed to keep Ecclestone as chief executive. Ecclestone settled the case by paying 100$ million.

      – Vijay Mallya who is still to this day the subject of an extradition warrant by the Indian government with regard to charges of financial crimes in India. Force India were put into administration and then saved by a group of investors led by Lawrence Stroll.

      – Haas and Rich Energy sponsorship deal in 2019.

      – Quantum Motorsports fictional acquisition of team Lotus in 2013.

      – Andrea Moda team entry and their fraudster boss Andrea Sassetti who was suspected to have links with Mafia. After he was arrested and excluded from the championship, his staff were found to be secretly sneaking his cars into the grid at Monza !!!

      – Brabham F1 sale to an investment company owned by a Swiss Banker who scammed investors for millions and fled to the USA before his trial has taken place which left the team in dispute of ownership before being sold to the Japanese company Middlebridge Group.

      – The March sale to the Leyton House whose CEO was involved in money laundering and fraud. He was later jailed and the team was gone.

      – Belgian convicted fraudster Belgian Jean-Pierre Van Rossem who founded MoneyTrone an investment company that pretended to own a supercomputer that predicts the stock market prices that prompted wealthy investors, including members of the Belgian royal family to bankroll his company. He was running a Ponzi scheme.

      He struck a sponsorship deal with Onyx Grand Prix before buying the team. Van Rossem has made comments about both Balestre and Ecclestone in the Belgian GP weekend referring to them as a NAZI and Mafia boss respectively which prompted Ecclestone to ban him from the paddock.

      – The story Sulaiman Al-Kehaimi who pretended to be a Saudi Prince intending to buy Tyrell. He gained access to the paddock using his fake VIP status before being unmasked after the 1996 Monaco GP and moved on to target other victims. Strangely he was cleared of all charges by a UK court.

      – Prince Malik Ado-Ibhrahim was Formula 1’s first Black team owner. He introduced himself to the team as royal descendent and promised Arrows 125$ million investment. Then, with half the season remaining, he vanished.

    3. Is it only ones who were caught and charged?

    4. for example Bernie Ecclestone quietly manoeuvring to ensure Pablo Escobar-connected rookie Ricardo Londono didn’t get an F1 superlicence (although one could argue the Medellin Cartel were just a friendlier and less ruthless forerunner to F1 junior teams).

      One could argue Bernie’s best buddy, Putin, is far worse. And that’s not meant to minimize the terror and ruthlessness of the Medellin Cartel. Just the opposite in fact. Bernie’s moral compass points to his wallet at all times and if Escobar had lined Bernie’s pockets or flattered his ego it would have been a different story.

    5. Is the first 150 pages dedicated to Jos Verstappen?

    6. Part of me wishes there was a resurgence of those shady private entries from the early 90’s. Some team noone’s ever heard of that base their inaugural season on a ‘radical’ chassis that an unnamed contractor designed on their laptop and ten or so three year old Cosworth V8’s that they got for cheap from another team that went into bankruptcy over the winter break.
      The main driver is the sole sponsor’s nephew, the second car is a revolving door of mainly Italian F3-level pay drivers that show up for one or two races, lap six seconds off the pace, fail in pre-qualifying and disappear into the ether once their own money runs out.
      Bonus points for an enigmatic team owner whose financial sources are a mystery to all involved and who elects to not visit the paddock at certain races because police in that country may or may not have an outstanding arrest warrant in his name.

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