Great subject matters


Dear Nigel,

I’ve enjoyed your articles and books since a teenager, and have always wanted to ask about three drivers who did not make it into your Grand Prix Greats book, namely Fittipaldi, Graham Hill and Brabham. I know the book was a personal selection, but even so I would love to know the reasons why you would not necessarily classify these as ‘great’.

Robert Elwell

2010 Bahrain Grand Prix - Saturday

Dear Robert,

It’s a very long time since I wrote Grand Prix Greats, and I’ll concede that the 25 drivers included then are not necessarily the same 25 as I would choose today.

When the book was coming up to publication, I had a hell of an argument, I remember, with the publishers about what its title should be. For one thing, I thought their proposed title – Grand Prix Greats – was naff, frankly, and smacked of ‘pot boiler’, which had not been my intention when I wrote it. For another, I pointed out to them that my 25 drivers were chosen because they were people who interested me, who captured my imagination, but by no means could every one of them be considered ‘great’. Eventually I allowed myself to be overruled on the title, and I’ve long regretted it.

Moving along from there, Messrs Fittipaldi, G Hill and Brabham were omitted from the book, not, as I’ve tried to explain, because I didn’t consider them – in varying degrees – ‘great’, but because they didn’t appeal to me, as subjects about whom to write, as much as those I included. Some of my choices were quirky, perhaps, but I was quite happy with that.

In fact, the book could quite easily have been twice the length it was, but the contract called for about 80,000 words. I wrote it in 1985/86, and at the time a lot of people were surprised, for example, that I included Ayrton Senna, at that stage in the very early days of his F1 career. Senna, though, was an unusually fascinating character, and clearly going to become a pivotal figure in racing history.

You mention Fittipaldi, Hill and Brabham (and if I were writing the book today unquestionably I would include Emerson, for one), but the omission most often mentioned over the years has been Nuvolari, in the opinion of many the greatest racing driver there has ever been. I left him out first because so much had already been written about him, but also because – for me personally – Achille Varzi, Tazio’s contemporary and great rival, was a more intriguing character. As I said, it was a very personal choice…

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