Grand Prix: The Killer Years, by John Matthews
© 2014 Bigger Picture Projects (available before Christmas 2014)


I imagine that most of us have seen the fascinating documentary Grand Prix: The Killer Years. It is a vivid film that brutally portrays the inherent danger of the Formula One racing landscape 40-plus years ago. It doesn’t attempt to sugar coat the dichotomy of a fast-paced glamour-filled racing lifestyle against the almost tortuous mindset that came along with it. Particularly for the families of the drivers.

As Jackie Stewart – one of the sport’s most vociferous and vehement proponents for car, driver and track safety – rated his chances of a race weekend’s survival as one in three, you can’t possibly imagine the sheer terror put upon the wives, girlfriends, families and maybe even the young kids of the time when they retired to the pit wall or hotel room to sit tensely, fingers crossed, maybe clicking the stop watch as they seemingly held their breath until the race was over.

The feeling one gleaned from the film was somewhat like this, but as the writer/producer and director of the film, John Matthews told me, the essence of the story – the survivors’ stories – was, out of necessity, left on the cutting room floor. After going through all the collected footage and the many interviews of the key personalities he had done for the film, “…you end up only using about 3% of all the material you spend several months trying to find.”

It was his realization that these absolute pearls; these interviews – which may never have been seen – should be shared with the rest of us, that led to the book – John’s first – of the same name. It is meant as an accompaniment to the film and assumes that you have seen it and can therefore relate the two. Having read a portion of the book I did not come away feeling that this was in any way detrimental and to have not seen it will in no way have any impact on the enjoyment of the book.

Because The Killer Years is actually in production as I write (it will I’m told be ready for Christmas delivery) there was no hard copy available to thumb through, so the author sent a few of the interviews to me via email. By reading the transcripts of Jacqueline Beltoise (sister of one of those unlucky heroes and likely future-F1 champion François Cevert), her husband Jean-Pierre and also Nina Rindt, the anguish and life changing events of that perilous and tumultuous time comes through the pages and slaps you in the face.

John had to be very conscious of the sensitive nature of these interviews and is careful to point out that rather than prod with questions and steer the interviews, he let them tell their own stories with minimal interruption. This method may be uncomfortable for both interviewer and interviewee as it leads to long silences where sometimes neither one wants to be the one to break it. The upshot for the reader though, is an honest and heartfelt account where the delicate and fragile emotions – particularly those of the women – really tug at your heart strings. Rare in a racing book where the norm is to read about the adulation and the accolades that go along with the playboy lifestyle.

Nina Rindt, widow of Jochen, talks about how he would make the pilot of their chartered plane sit in the back while he himself took over flying duties, sometimes in dangerous situations which would infuriate her. ‘The more danger, the better’ was the attitude of the drivers back then who couldn’t care less about how fast they were driving, but more – according to Jean-Pierre Beltoise – about how precise their driving was.

With a foreword by renowned racing journalist and author David Tremayne and chapters including interviews with David ‘Beaky’ Sims (the last person to speak to Jim Clark and his race mechanic), Sir Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, Jacky Ickx, Emerson Fittipaldi and more, the book will make riveting reading for racing fans with even a passing interest in the roots of modern F1.

Unusually, however, it will transcend motor sport fans and carry over to readers of human interest stories as the transcripts make heart wrenching reading from those who lived with death or stared it down and survived to share it with us.

Don’t miss the chance to obtain a copy of this one, which you can pre-order by clicking here. You will want to read it over and over. Get the DVD too if you haven’t already.

Using our unique ‘Chequered Flags’ rating system, we award Grand Prix: The Killer Years…

5 FlagsOUT OF A POSSIBLE FIVE.

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James Edmonds

Journalist at MotorsportM8

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