University of Sussex Students' Newspaper

Review: Offtrack by Esha Patel

Maisie Knights

ByMaisie Knights

May 14, 2024

Offtrack is a new and upcoming contemporary romance by debut author Esha Patel. The novel provides an insight into the terrifying world of F1 racing, its drivers, and the fame that comes alongside the sport. The book follows the story of Diana Zahrani, the first female driver to break into the F1 races in a century, and the romance she strikes up with fellow racer, Miguel de la Fuente.

I know nothing about F1, but as someone who enjoys reading novels centred around female empowerment, I was intrigued. In a world where romance has become an oversaturated market full of smut and bad writing, I went into this cautious and ready for, dare I say, cringe. But I was pleasantly surprised …sort of. But not for the reasons you’re thinking. Sports romances have taken the publishing industry by storm since the rise of BookTok. No sport is safe from the smutty novels hidden behind bright cartoon covers – there’s even a market for golf romances – and let’s face it, that’s really scraping the barrel. 

So I was taken back to come across Offtrack, one of the first (that I had seen) of its kind. Rather than having the main character a colleague or family friend of the F1 driver, she was a driver herself, tearing around the tracks alongside her love interest. By the time Diana is introduced to the public as a new driver, serving as an ‘experiment’ to test the feminism waters, Miguel is already a big name in the racing industry. The two hold a mutual respect, borderline friendship, which the reader watches slowly blossom into something new. Diana, an athlete fighting to make it in a very male-dominated field, was a captivating main character for her patience and resilience in dealing with the sports’ double standards. 

However,  it comes as no surprise that the strongest attribute to Offtrack isn’t its romance, but rather the engaging plot of one woman’s story of success. Whilst reading I was sure I could hear ’The Man’ by Taylor Swift playing somewhere in the distance. Diana faces a lot of misogyny, double standards and sexism throughout the book, a relatable reality for every woman across the world. I quickly found myself more engaged in Diana’s journey and the F1 aspect rather than the romance – despite this novel being marketed as a romance! Overall, I found the relationship between Diana and Miguel forced and unnecessary, especially when the plot potential was *right* there. 

However, that is not to say the romance between Diana and Miguel is necessarily ‘bad’. The two share a special journey that any friends-to-lovers fan will rave for. There is mutual respect and a deep understanding many romance books like to skirt around in favour of smut. But I will be honest in admitting my style has always been enemies to lovers – so I grew bored, and I wanted more of the action and plot! It is almost insulting to write a novel like this and force it into a romance, implying that many sports could never become co-ed for the fear of athletes falling in love with each other.

In short, I believe Offtrack would have read better as a literary fiction, focusing on the realistic reality of a female woman of colour F1 driver, rather than the romance Esha Patel tried to interweave into the plot and market it as. That being said, the novel is a fun, easy read for anyone curious to learn more about F1 and catch a glimpse of what life is like for the drivers. 

Thank you NetGalley and Avon Books for sending this book for review consideration. Offtrack is now available to buy in-stores and online.

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