Book review: Winning Is Not Enough

Sir Jackie Stewart’s autobiography Winning Is Not Enough is an interesting one. It covers absolutely everything in his career, or so you would think. He reveals in the end that he had a hard time choosing what to put in the book and what to keep out. It’s so thorough that you would think it was all there. 

Again, if you are a racing nut it’s definitely a book to read. Stewart, who coincidently turns 80 today (or is it so coincidental? *spooky music*), raced in Formula 1 from the late ‘60s to the early ‘70s and became world champion not once, but three times. Pretty amazing considering the fact that most racing drivers were killed in those days. 

His competitive career started in clay pigeon shooting. Something he was instantly good at. He is dyslectic, and in those days, being a “wee lad” in the ´50s, it was especially hard. Dyslectic people were often seen as stupid because no one really knew how to deal with it. So, young Stewart had a hard time trying to fit in, until he found shooting. Long story short: He was good and almost qualified for the Olympic Games in 1960, only to miss out almost purely by chance. One thing led to another and he found himself racing cars, something he also mastered fairly quickly. 

He raced all over the place in all kinds of cars. He kept it a secret from his mother because she would never approve. Only after he retired from Formula 1 would his mother acknowledge the fact he went racing. 

Some of the stories he tells of the past are absolutely crazy. He talks about a major crash, where if he wouldn’t have been found by one of his peers, he probably would have been left to die. That incident made him safety conscious and pushed for higher safety standards in motor racing. The racing community laughed at him, but he got his way and racing became “less deadly”. Had he not been as good as he was, he probably wouldn’t have had the strength to make people listen to him. 

From page 303:

“Ayrton told me that I should not ask for another interview because he would never speak to me again. I wasn’t pleased that he was so upset, but I had regarded it as my job to raise these difficult issues.” 

That part of the book is very interesting. It’s from an interview with one of the true greats in Formula 1, the late Ayrton Senna from Brazil. Stewart had challenged him regarding his actions on track. Senna was offended and felt that Stewart crossed the line. In fairness, Stewart was doing his job as an interviewer for TV. 

That’s just one of all the stories. Also, this is the first book to bring tears to my eyes. There is a very touching passage about his teammate, Frenchman Francois Cevert, who was killed in 1973. The same weekend Cevert was killed happened to be the final race weekend for Jackie Stewart as well. He retired from the sport following the tragic death of family friend and teammate Cevert. Stewart tells a touching story which hit me hard. I won’t say anymore than that – you’ll have to pick up your own copy. 

I learned a lot reading this book. About F1 racing, about his constant strive for perfection, and about life. And I had no idea that he was partially responsible for Steven Spielberg being able to film some of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in Jordan. So bizarre. 

If you love racing, or even just reading about a Brit growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, it’s great fun. I only remember one spelling mistake in the whole book, and that was in the forward, written by The Princess Royal Anne, daughter of Queen Elizabeth II. That must sting. There is another quirk in the book as well. Stewart has a habit of writing the word and with a comma after it – rather often. As though he is building up a cliffhanger every other sentence: “So, I got in the car and, put my seatbelts on.” It kind of stops the flow slightly – I’m surprised that wasn’t sorted out in the proofreading. But all in all it’s a very entertaining book and a must-read for F1 fans. And before I forget, Happy Birthday Sir Jackie Stewart!

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