Books For Christmas Motor racing: Irvine's life in fast lane without a toll pass

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THE POPULAR impression of Eddie Irvine as an ill-mannered, laddish, spoilt brat is confirmed in a new book from the driver who almost won the Formula One World Championship this year. But then there is evidence also of other aspects to his character. In collaboration with Jane Nottage and a supporting cast, Irvine has produced an account of his time with Ferrari and an insight into his private environment in Life In The Fast Lane (Ebury Press, pounds 16.99).

Colleagues, family, friends and lovers roll up like guests on This Is Your Life to paint their portrait of the Irishman. Those closest to him admit they have cleared up after him, covered for him and pampered him when he palpably needed bringing down a peg or two. Irvine has unashamedly indulged himself and cultivated the alternative image of the grand prix driver, and no one can deny that the Formula One scene should cherish any colour it can muster. Corporatespeak and regulation platitudes are not his language.

However, what emerges through the smirks and brashness is a hint of sensitivity and vulnerability. The trademark insouciance and shades mask signs of insecurity, a struggle for recognition and appreciation.

He would have to be a peculiar animal to endure four seasons as Michael Schumacher's No 2 at Ferrari but even he succumbed to the inevitable frustrations. Irvine acknowledges that Schumacher is the best in the world and accepts that the German has been the catalyst for Ferrari's revival. Yet he questions the team's policy of concentrating on one driver.

There were other irritations. He could not understand why he was criticised by the team director for his mistakes while Schumacher was excused spectacular errors. Or why he had to queue to pay at Italian motorway toll booths when the No 1 driver had a pass to whizz through uninterrupted. He may, of course, have left himself open to the "second-class citizen" treatment. His bosses took a dim view of his wont to put his feet up on the table.

Paradoxically, Irvine is a smart business operator and an opportunist, and there were compensations for his Ferrari years. He was well-paid, accumulated big boys' toys, won races and earned an even more lucrative deal with Jaguar.

He was given notice of dismissal by Ferrari two days after Schumacher's crash at Silverstone, the incident that thrust Irvine into the improbable role of championship contender, but by then his switch to Jaguar had already been negotiated.

He retreats from accusing Schumacher of letting him down in the championship decider, the Japanese Grand Prix, presumably because his team-mate had disarmed him by presenting him with victory in Malaysia and, when the moment of truth arrived, Irvine was not up to it.

Irvine reveals he was approached in the middle of the season by McLaren- Mercedes, whose successes have evoked the pre-World War Two era of the Silver Arrows. The domination by Mercedes and Auto Union on the race tracks of Europe was exploited for propaganda purposes by a dictator intent on another kind of power. Hitler's Grands Prix in England - Donington 1937 and 1938, by Christopher Hilton (Haynes Publishing, pounds 19.99) recalls two races on the East Midlands circuit and so much more besides. This meticulously researched and structured book describes the victories of Bernd Rosemeyer and Tazio Nuvolari against a backdrop of sinister political manoeuvring.

Louis T Stanley, for 20 years chairman of BRM and pioneer of improved safety and medical care in motor racing, takes a wider retrospective sweep in Strictly Off The Record (Salamander Books, pounds 18.99).

He gives harrowing accounts of fatal accidents and forthright opinions on some of the sport's leading personalities. He wishes Damon Hill had been more like his father Graham, finds Murray Walker "tiresome and irritating" and warns of the "(Bernie) Ecclestone-symptom that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

Nigel Roebuck also back-tracks in Chasing The Title - Memorable Moments From 50 Years Of Formula One (Haynes Publishing, pounds 19.99). It is an uncompromisingly subjective reflection. Fans of Mansell and Schumacher should move on.

For something completely different, even wacky, check out The Formula One Pack, by Ron van der Meer and Adam Cooper (Van der Meer Publishing, pounds 29.99) an interactive, three-dimensional presentation complete with pop-up illustrations, charts, profiles and statistics.