Tiff Needell is best known for being a presenter of BBC’s Top Gear and, latterly, Channel Five’s Fifth Gear motoring programmes. Hence the title of his new autobiography, Tiff Gear.
The details of his Formula 1 career are less well-known – the stuff of obscure pub quiz questions.
He made two appearances with the one-car Ensign team at Grand Prix weekends in 1980. Needell got the call after Clay Regazzoni was paralysed in a crash at Long Beach.
Needell qualified on the back row of the grid at Zolder for the Belgian Grand Prix and managed 12 laps before the engine failed.
Two weeks later he missed the cut in qualifying at Monte-Carlo in circumstances that would have led me to title the book “Carlos Reutemann ruined my F1 career”. I’ll leave it for you to discover why when you read it.
And read it you should because it’s an entertaining story told at a rapid pace with plenty of amusing anecdotes.
Needell’s two-race F1 career takes up the first chapter of the book and the rest of it covers how he got there – starting off with him winning a racing car as a competition prize – and his career afterwards.
His other racing activities spanned sports cars and touring cars, including that memorable clash with then reigning world champion Nigel Mansell in 1993.
I have a minor grumble at this point – the repeated mis-spelling of Kieth O’dor, which I am particularly sensitive to as the late touring car driver used a different spelling of his first name to mine.
Needell finds room for some observations on how motor racing changed in the course of a career that spanned four decades.
His take on the subject will chime in with that of many F1 Fanatic readers: he acknowledges his good fortune fortune in staying safe throughout his career, but regrets the increasing sanitisation of racing circuits, such as the addition of chicanes to the famed Mulsanne straight at Le Mans.
The book may only qualify for a mention on F1 Fanatic thanks to a pair of races but there’s plenty here for fans of motor racing to enjoy.
As Needell puts it: “It may have been one of the briefest Grand Prix careers on record, but I’m still immensely proud that I made it to the ultimate level of my sport without ever having to buy my way into a drive.”
It’s hard not to agree with that.
F1 Fanatic rating
“Tiff Gear: The autobiography of Tiff Needell”
Author: Tiff Needell
Publisher: Haynes, 2011
RRP: £19.99 (UK)
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