BOOK OF THE WEEK; More than a bible for the anoraks

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The Independent Online
The Grand Prix Who's Who by Steve Small (Guinness Publishing, pounds 17.95)

Motor racing attracts anoraks like cricket, trainspotting and few other pursuits do. It presents a statistical treasure trove and the genuine aficionados are suitably armed with libraries of record books and factual paraphernalia.

The trouble with some publications in this category is that they are limited in the scope of their information, cannot necessarily be trusted for accuracy and tend to be excruciatingly boring. A conspicuous exception, on all three counts, is this one.

It contains the biographies and career details of every driver to have started a grand prix from the inception of the world championship, in 1950, to the end of the 1995 season, more than 530 in all, plus briefer notes on those who attempted but failed to qualify.

This second edition of the book has been revised and brought up to date to include the newer generation of drivers and the data covers not only basic race-by-race nuts and bolts, but also qualifying positions and explanations of retirements, whether through mechanical failure or human error.

The new edition has also, apparently, eliminated the errors made, and subsequently spotted, first time round, accommodated illustrations for nearly every driver and given the author the opportunity to amend or embellish the biographies.

Here, in fact, is one of its strongest and most refreshing features. The biographies are thoroughly well considered and written, providing an intelligently balanced assessment and an entertaining read, a hugely welcome relief from some of the tediously bland offerings in this field.

Small declines to follow the "in' line when assessing Nigel Mansell's contribution to the sport, preferring the popular, heroic persona to the "whinging, ungracious chip-on-the-shoulder Brit" who for years was despised by certain members of the motor racing press. "His remarkable deeds in a racing car are of primary concern in a book of this nature," Small reasons, so running the risk of giving anoraks a bad name.

He also stoutly defends Damon Hill against his detractors. He might even say he prophetically champions Hill's cause, pointing out that the Englishman has made his own way on his own merit rather than on the back of his father's reputation.

The accepted greats are duly acknowledged in the book, but then they are all here: the champions, the failures, the tragic, the dreamers, the long-forgotten.

No matter how many other bibles you anoraks may have lined up on your bookshelves, consider making space for this one. You should find it worth the investment.

Derick Allsop