Top critical review
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Well-written, but curiously unsatisfying
on 22 November 2007
This autobiography (and, for once, it really was written by the man himself, no ghosting here I think) is a very well written account of John Young Stewart's entire life. By that I mean that we don't just get the racing career. The book includes a long section on how his parents met and set up their garage business (well before Jackie Stewart's birth) Jackie's early life at school (not happy...), his brother's racing career, his early sporting success at clay pigeon shooting, racing, then business, endorsements, testing Ford cars, his family, Rolex, his friends (oh so many... mostly famous), setting up Paul Stewart Racing, Ford, moving into F1 again as Stewart Grand Prix, Rolex, his dogs, his friends, charity work, his son's illness, Ford, his brother's illness, his dog's illness, getting suits cut to fit over a Rolex, his friends, etc etc etc.
So why only three stars for such a chunky and comprehensive book? Well, I'm a petrolhead. Yes, I know, limited horizons perhaps, but I'm guessing that some people buying this book might (as I did) hope for more about the actual racing life, and the time spent within the team and behind the wheel. You notice how the racing career gets a little lost in that list I cobbled together above? Well, that's a little like the way the book comes across too. His racing doesn't really get going before about a quarter of the way into the book, and by half distance he's shown it the black flag and gone on to other things. Even within that section there are curious holes in the narrative. Where did the 1967 season go, for instance? During this year JYS was lumbered with the infamous BRM H16 powerplant, a unit on which his scathing "anchor for a ship" comment has passed into legend. But we get very little about just why it was so bad. This may well be the natural sportsman's attitude that you forget the bad and dwell on the good, but to find yourself slammed straight from 1966 into the front end of 1968 is a narrative car crash of Kubica-at-Montreal proportions. Similarly, 1972 seems to have done a bunk, although we are treated to an absorbing eulogy to Tyrrell 003 (hence, 1971 is quite well taken care of).
But... only once, on page 194, do we really get an idea about what went on in Sir Jackie's mind during a race. And this from one of the most thoughtful racing drivers in the sport's entire history! During his career Stewart drove an amazing variety of machinery, from the light and delicate BRM P261 F1 car of 1965, through the increasingly potent and rapid 3-litre cars (during the nacent slicks-n-wings stage, no less!), to monsters of CanAm. However, somehow we never really get an idea about what it was that lit Jackie's fuse about motor racing, other than the fact that he turned out to be good at it. What comes through is that Jackie Stewart (rightly) regards his driving career as a strictly limited period in his life. Having seen many interviews with the man, and heard him enthuse about motor racing, I really can't understand where all that went when he was writing this tome.
Despite the star rating, I would actually recommend this book, but be aware that this is not a driver's eye view of the glamourous late-60s and early-70s F1 circus, it is a portrait of a man. An acutely observed one, at that. I will stick at only three stars, however, as I can't help but feel that this book is being missold. The dust jacket features a shot of 006/2 (his last F1 car), a chequered flag pattern, and the rear has a moody portrait of JYS in his full-sideburned, early 70s pomp. But, to be honest, it really ought to be emblazoned with Ford, Rolex and Elf logos. He seems to be more in love with these corporations than ever he was with the smell of Castrol. Them and the Mayo Clinic. As his racing career lasted only about a decade, and his subsequent corporate career has spanned nearly four times that length, perhaps the balance is about right. Unfortunately, for me, while the ins and outs of corporate shmoozing, wheeling and dealing obviously push Jackie's buttons, they don't mine. Closing this book for the last time I felt that I had gained a huge understanding of the real Sir Jackie Stewart. Unfortunately, I think I preferred the fantasy. Ah well.