“Mario Andretti: A Driving Passion” (Gordon Kirby, 2001)

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Lewis Hamilton is a cracking F1 driver. But just how good a racer is he, really?

I want to see how he would adapt his turn-in style to the British Touring Car Championship in a front wheel drive Seat Leon. I want to see him tackle the Indianapolis 500 where they turn 230mph average laps for three hours plus. I want to know how quick he can lap a sports car around Le Mans at night in the rain.

I bet he’d astonish us in all these disciplines but we’ll probably never find out how adaptable he is because F1 drivers seldom, if ever show up in other forms of motor racing any more.

Which is something you could never accuse Mario Andretti of.

Mario Andretti was F1 World Champion in 1978. But how many world champions can boast a CV that also includes the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500? Not to mention a stack of wins in F1, Indy Car, NASCAR, dirt racing, sports car racing and more.

Not long ago I read Nigel Roebuck’s biography of Andretti. It was a good book, but my one criticism of it was that it was too F1-centric.

Gordon Kirby, “Mario Andretti: A Driving Passion”, spans the motor sport spectrum just as Andretti’s career here. It’s a fantastic piece of work by Kirby who, just like Andretti, has not confined his professional occupation with motor racing to a single discipline.

Aware that his audience would likely not have a sufficient background knowledge of every motor sport Andretti hopped in and out of, Kirby gives plenty of room to examining the prevailing circumstances in each discipline and how Andretti fitted in within that.

There are clear and distinct recurring themes between all of the different sports – safety, technological progress, driving manners, team discipline.

There are of course a few disputed areas of Andretti’s career that the book handles with care. The disparaging remarks made about how ‘easy’ his 1978 championship was at the wheel of a Lotus 79 may be largely ignored now, but we are left in no doubt that Andretti paid his dues in helping Colin Chapman rebuild team Lotus in the mid-seventies.

The more recent passages on Andretti’s relationship with fellow F1 champion Nigel Mansell in 1993-4 are treated more gingerly. Mansell gets a bit of a rough time and isn’t called upon to defend himself.

I’m not sure that from reading this I’ve gotten a more accurate representation of life in the Newman-Haas garage in those years any more than in reading Mansell’s awful autobiography that largely ignores Andretti.

This is a mighty book, though. Fat with detail on a complex and fascinating character, every world champion should have this sort of book written about them. Even those who never bothered to cast their net far beyond the waters of Formula 1, much less take on a fellow champion in an identical car at the age of 53…

David Bull Publishing

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Tags: f1 / formula one / formula 1 / grand prix / motor sport

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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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