“Racers” (Richard Williams, 1997)

?????ǣRacers?????? (Richard Williams, 1997)At the end of every year comes the inevitable rush of season review annuals. Bright, glossy, heavy, and most of them completely pointless apart from the instalments of the venerable Autocourse.

“Racers” is in effect a review of the 1996 season, but with several crucial differences: It is written as straight narrative, with not a glistening photograph nor table of championship positions in sight. It tells the season not in race-by-race instalments but as a plot, giving background on the characters supported by detailed interviews with each of them.

As a result it gives a depth of understanding about how the year unfolded that no other book can approach.

Richard Williams, sports writer for the Guardian, has written some fine books on Formula 1 – I thoroughly enjoyed his biography of Enzo Ferrari and his fascinating study of the 1957 Pescara Grand Prix, “The Last Road Race”.

In “Racers” he tells the story of a Grand Prix season with particularly close attention to the three stars of 1996; Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher.

Inevitably the book follows Hill most closely and gives an insight into how Hill approached 1996 with a change in his mental discipline, how he weathered the strains of the championship and his untimely dropping by Williams.

These passages about Hill are where the book really sparkles. Williams portrays the British drivers in a sympathetic but not fawning light, content to criticise where necessary.

The book loses some of its impact in the passages given over to explaining the back stories behind the other characters, although to a non-F1 fan these areas would surely not seem as repetitive.

“Racers” would ideally suit a sports fan who’s never really gotten into F1, or struggles to relate to the human side of a sport that seems cold and mechanical from the outside.

Those who are F1 fans already will find it a brisk read but one that has some revealing and fascinating material.

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