Burning Rubber, by Charles Jennings

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The Independent Culture

The first formally organised motor race, between Paris and Rouen in 1894, was won by a De Dion steam tractor. The organisers promptly demoted it in favour of a petrol-engined Peugeot, and since then the sport has had the air of making up rules as it goes along.

This excellent history of grand prix racing expertly guides readers through the chicanes and chicanery of the following century or so; Charles Jennings is at home talking about cars or the characters who drove them, but comes into his own when examining the personalities of the drivers and assessing each one's place on the podium.

He is clear-eyed about the merits of some of Britain's world champions – Graham Hill was "an indefatigable toiler who stayed on far too long [and] played up the Lovable Card act", James Hunt was "at the mercy of crippling nerves or existential waywardness", Nigel Mansell was "fearless but incredibly annoying" – and is forthright about the increasing "moral shoddiness" of F1.

Compulsory reading for anyone with a passing interest in men and motors.

Published in hardback by Quercus, £17.99