Champions of Formula One

by Keith Botsford. 168pp, 8″ x 5″. (Stanley Paul & Co Ltd, 62-65 Chandos Place, London WC2N 4NW. £12.95)

If you are looking for a straightforward, non-controversial pen portrait of each of the 21 drivers who have become World Champion, this is not the book for you. It is far more entertaining than that.

Readers of The Sunday Times will need no introduction to Keith Botsford, for his Grand Prix reports have always been that bit more incisive, instructive and opinionated than most Fleet Street accounts. Working on the assumption that comparisons between drivers from different eras are meaningless, Botsford has devoted himself to the eleven drivers who have been World Champion since 1969.

He reasons that there is a great divide in the so-called “modern” era which separates Grand Prix racing in the Fifties and Sixties from that of the Seventies and Eighties when the whole approach to racing was transformed. In terms of drivers, Rindt’s death marks the end of one era as Stewart’s career signals the beginning of a new one— the age of professionalism and commercialism.

Not for Botsford the dull race-by-race minutiae of each driver’s career, but rather a resumé worked into the panorama of each driver’s psyche, an insight into what makes them tick and a character assessment. Wonderful stories are related throughout, giving great insight into all those who come into the orbit of these drivers, few of whom escape the lash of Botsford’s pen. Whether all the anecdotes and comments will make the final book from the proof copy remains to be seen, but even if not, enough meat will remain to satisfy most.

My only query regards the dust jacket design. As mentioned, the book deals with a 20-year period which, in Botsford’s view, is the era of Stewart, Lauda and Prost, yet none warrants a picture on the jacket. Instead there are two of Piquet, one of Andretti, and three of champions who are not even covered in the book. There could not be a more apt time to resurrect that hackneyed expression “never judge a book by its cover”, for this is one that no Grand Prix enthusiast should miss. Highly recommended. WPK