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Book Review: "Faster! A Racer's Diary" by Jackie Stewart and Peter Manso

It was a magical time to be in motor racing. Anything was possible. It was a time when a sharp entrepreneur like Ken Tyrrell could leverage the talent of a driver like Jackie Stewart, to attract several deep-pocket sponsors, including the Ford Motor Company, and create a racing team from scratch. Tyrrell coupled a French chassis (the vaunted Matra MS-80) with a British Ford Cosworth V8 engine, and with Stewart as driver, beat the likes of Ferrari, Lotus and McLaren to win the F-1 world championship. The year was 1969. "Faster! A Racer's Diary" by Jackie Stewart and Peter Manso, is an account of what happened the following season, which in some ways is even more incredible. Best of all, it's told from Stewart's point of view (Manso's job was to transcribe the tapes Stewart recorded throughout the season, and to edit and arrange the manuscript into a reader-friendly book).

Stewart's daily account takes you through the highs and lows of an entire racing season. You see other drivers as Stewart sees them, learn what he thinks of them, and how he assesses their talent (he's ruthlessly frank). 1970 was among the bloodiest F-1 seasons on record; two of Stewart's best friends died in horrific crashes. You feel Stewart's pain and anguish in learning their fate, and of having to face their wives–now widows–with the bad news, as well as face his own wife, who worries constantly about his well-being.

Stewart is that rare driver who can describe what it's like to drive a racing car. He puts you down inside the deep cockpit so that you see what he sees, feel what he feels: the world blurring past, while in front everything is clear and sharply defined and–such is the deep state of his concentration–arrive in slow motion. You feel the Gs build as Stewart brakes and downshifts for an oncoming curve, and leans his machine in, pushing it to its absolute limit: the car feeling as though it were up on tiptoes, as Stewart describes it. Exciting stuff.

Equally interesting is the dilemma Stewart and Tyrrell face at the beginning of the season, in trying to find a suitable car to replace the Matra MS80–no longer available–that won the 1969 world championship. Tyrrell meets with a number of English car builders–at BRM, Brabham, McLaren, and Lola–but nothing comes of it. Finally, he decides to build his own car. While waiting for a car to be designed and built, Stewart begins the season driving a newly developed March F-1. While he manages to win the Spanish Grand Prix, he absolutely loathes the car. When at last their new team car arrives (the Tyrrell 001), Stewart spends a number of frustrating test sessions sorting it out, which he describes in detail. When it seems the car is a hopeless mess, miraculously it all comes right, and Stewart takes his place once again at the front of the grid.

"Faster! A Racer's Diary" was written long ago but its message is timeless. Not that much has changed in the intervening 40 years. Today's F-1 teams, despite having $300 million annual budgets, and an army of engineers, technicians and mechanics, still undergo the same trials and tribulations as Stewart and Tyrrell did in 1970. If you love motor racing, or fancy yourself as a racing driver, get this book and discover what it's really like out there.

Final note, this book was among a select few that inspired me to write my first book, a racing novel, entitled "The Ragged Edge."

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