“Formula One – The Autobiography” – Gerald Donaldson ed.

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There are no shortage of coffee-table F1 books, resplendent with exquisite photography and teeming with statistics. But Formula 1: The Autobiography, though huge, offers something more: The history of F1 in the words of the drivers themselves.

Walk into any second-hand bookshop and in the motorsport section you’ll probably find a few dozen different ‘encyclopaedias’ of Formula One, all offering more or less the same thing. But if you see a copy of Formula 1: The Autobiography there, do yourself a favour and grab a copy.

Because here is Formula One history as you so rarely see it: not written second-hand but straight from the mouths of the people who built or drove the cars. Even up to the more sterile seasons of the late nineties, since when F1 drivers have become increasingly media-trained and less likely to be cajoled into saying something outrageous.

All manner of bizarre anecdotes emerge in the book – a favourite is of the 1976 USA East Grand Prix when Niki Lauda, recently returned to F1 after a terrible crash in Germany, goose-stepped into championship rival James Hunt’s room at the crack of dawn and announced, “Vake up! Today I vill vin zee championship!”

Not all the quotes are from drivers or team owners, some are from ordinary people and my favourite comes from a Hungarian taxi driver on F1’s first visit to the country in 1986: “No problem, Formula 1 in a communist country. We are only communists when someone is listening.”

It gives a much better appreciation of the true achievements of some of the first to hear their peers talk about it. Everyone raves about Ayrton Senna’s opening lap at Donington Park in 1993, but when it’s 1982 champion Keke Rosberg saying, “Senna’s opening lap at Donington was one of the greatest I’ve seen. Simple as that,” you pay more attention.

Given that you’ve probably already got at least of the ten-a-penny ‘encyclopaedias’ on your bookshelf already it doesn’t matter so much that Formula 1: The Autobiography lacks the kind of statistics detail that many fans crave.

But it is patchy in places – some memorable races and incidents are overlooked purely out of a lack of space, it seems. Published in 2002, it traces the origins of Formula one in the late nineteenth-century right up to the 2001 season.

If you’ve not grabbed a copy of this before, do track it down and add it to your collection even if you have to pay the entire 35 asking price. Few books get you quite as close to the sport as this one does.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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