Post-Christmas reading


You may, like me, be looking at a stack of Christmas books and wondering which one to read first.

Many of my friends and relations have a default position when it comes to the vexatious problem of what to give the man who, apparently, has everything he could ever need. My shelves, it is true, are overflowing with motor racing books – I call it my reference library – and I am mindful of Mahatma Gandhi’s plea that we must service our needs but limit our wants. But, as we all know, a new motor racing book is always a pleasure.

This year my sister went hunting in Hatchards and came up with a book I had never seen before and which I didn’t know I needed. But I do now, and so may you once you have perused the first few pages.

Motor Racing’s Strangest Races, a collection of extraordinary but true stories compiled by Geoff Tibballs is a fascinating and occasionally hilarious read. The tales cover the period from 1894 through to 2006, painting a picture of a sport that became a business while thankfully never losing its sense of the absurd. Most people in motor racing have a highly developed sense of humour because, without it, they would not survive in such a highly pressurised activity.

It is, however, not the hilarious but the bizarre that makes this book such a pleasure. As we all know, the twists and turns of Formula 1 racing regularly defy belief, producing the kind of script that you couldn’t concoct in your wildest dreams. You may have forgotten some of the weird and wonderful events of the past few decades so here’s a few ‘tasters’ from this unusual book.

The German Grand Prix of 2000 at Hockenheim will stay in the memory of a 47-year-old Frenchman who had recently been dismissed from his job at Mercedes-Benz. This chap chose to make his feelings known to Merc by walking out onto the track in the middle of the race which, I suppose, was a more direct approach than going to a tribunal. Anyway, a safety car was dispatched, leader Hӓkkinen pitted but Coulthard stayed out, unaware of the safety car which he then had to slowly follow round to the pits. Thus the Scot was denied a chance of overall victory and the McLaren-Mercedes team was compromised by a former employee of its engine supplier.

After the race Ron Dennis was moved to comment as follows. “We had flexibility in our strategy but not sufficient to accommodate a deranged spectator walking on the track and costing us the race and endangering his and the lives of the drivers.” The race, you may recall, was won by Barrichello for Ferrari with Hӓkkinen second and Coulthard third.

Then there’s the bizarre story of the 25-minute Grand Prix. The Australian GP at Adelaide in 1991 was stopped after just 14 laps had been completed. In torrential rain, and after Mansell crashed, Ayrton Senna gesticulated that the race should be stopped and the stewards reacted immediately by showing a red flag.

After a 50 minute delay, it was decided that the result should be calculated on the last lap completed which put Mansell in second place behind the wily Senna with Berger third. Half points were awarded and Bernie Ecclestone said the race should have continued anyway, with white and yellow flags being shown while debris was cleared away. All in all, a wash-out, and another win for Senna.

These, and many others from many other disciplines and eras, make up a delightful and unusual book which makes for some light reading at the end of a busy day. I recommend you add it to your library or put it on your Christmas list for the end of the year.

Motor Racing’s Strangest Races is published in paperback by Portico and costs £6.99.

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