Books for Christmas: Motor racing - McLaren's effort misfires as Ferrari produce a winner

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IT WAS a Formula One season dominated by McLaren and Ferrari, and appropriately they are competing in the Christmas books market. The British team may have had the edge on tarmac, but on paper they lose out to the Italians.

Collins Willow could scarcely have chosen a better year to publish Teamwork by Gerald Donaldson (pounds 24.99), the authorised biography of McLaren, yet what might have been an enthralling insight into a tense and occasionally controversial challenge for the world championship is no more emotional or gripping than a glossy company prospectus.

The author was doubtless shackled by corporate paranoia but the pictorial restraints imposed by the team's grey colours could have been countered with imaginative selection of photographs.

Of course it is easier when the subject has the red livery and charisma of Ferrari. However, this is a well-worn publishing route and many efforts down the years have failed more miserably than the team.

Ferrari 1947-1997, The Official Book, edited by Gianni Cancellieri (Haynes Publishing, pounds 50) bucks the trend. At that price, you might argue, it ought to, but since this is a celebration of the Marque's golden jubilee something special was called for. It demanded style, Ferrari style, and that is precisely what it has delivered.

The book traces the origins and creation of the legend, and examines the team's triumphs and turbulent times, decade by decade. The cars, the engines, the drivers, the glories and the catastrophes are captured in word and superb illustration.

Many of the surviving drivers pen personal memoirs, tributes to Enzo Ferrari, the team and the legend. Biographies of those no longer with us provide a poignant reminder of more perilous racing eras.

If you are a Ferrari freak - or even just a motor racing freak - you cannot but be entranced by this book.

The decade by decade format is followed also in Formula One - Fifty Golden Years, edited by David Tremayne (Apex Marketing, pounds 14.95) which presents an excellent overview of the history of the grand prix world championship.

All the leading personalities and the outstanding races are featured in this easy on the eye, flick through the years, value for money offering.

This past year has not been particularly successful or satisfying for one of Formula One's grandees, Jackie Stewart. His Stewart Ford team struggled to make an impact in their second championship season and were hounded to the last by speculation of a takeover.

An extension of his contract with Ford gave the former world champion some badly needed comfort. So might the unashamedly nostalgic Jackie Stewart: Triple crowned king of speed, by Karl Ludvigsen (Haynes, pounds 24.99).

There is frankly nothing new here, despite the tenuous claims this is the first biography that assesses Stewart's pioneering work for safer motor racing from the vantage point of the late 90s.

No matter. Stewart's is a compelling tale that merits the retelling and younger race fans may welcome the opportunity to be acquainted with his phenomenal achievements and contribution to the sport.

The crusading zeal generated in the aftermath of Ayrton Senna's death, in 1994, found overwhelming global support. Attitudes in the 60s and 70s were very different.

Stewart was dismissed in some quarters as a meddlesome wimp for daring to seek means of saving drivers' lives, but he was undeterred by the traditionalists. He had lost too many friends to be deflected from his course and his legacy is testimony to another kind of courage.