|Staying On Track: The Autobiography, by Nigel Mansell|
|© 2015 Simon & Schuster, ISBN 9781471150234 (Paperback)|
Staying On Track is Nigel Mansell’s his first autobiography – the third in a series of biographies written on the 1992 Formula 1 World Champion – coming some twenty years after his final Formula 1 race in 1995 with McLaren.
In contrast to the previous two titles, Driven To Win by Derek Allsop (1988) and The People’s Champion by James Allen (1995), this is penned by the man himself, giving the book a more authentic voice and perhaps some of the passage of time since hanging up his helmet.
The book gives a vivid personal account of his difficult path to Formula 1, where he and his devoted wife Rosanne struggled to make ends meet, holding down multiple jobs and even remortgaging their house to help Nigel fulfill his goal of making it all the way to the top.
He got his foot in the door as a test driver with Colin Chapman’s Lotus team, making debut at the 1980 Austrian Grand Prix. His affection for the late Chapman (who died in 1982) rings throughout the book, crediting the enterprising team owner with giving him his big break.
It took until 1985 and a switch to the Williams team before he broke through and won his maiden Grand Prix, and he went on to finish runner-up three times in the Drivers’ Championship before the crowning achievement of a World Championship crown would be his in 1992. In all, he won 31 Grands Prix, a record for a British driver that was unsurpassed until Lewis Hamilton overhauled him in 2014. Added to that, he won the 1993 IndyCar title in his debut season, a feat that equally should not be overlooked.
The post-F1 section of the book – its final third – is perhaps the most compelling section of Staying On Track. Here he gives his views on how the landscape of Formula 1 had changed, and also recalls his accident at the 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans that finally prompted him to retire for good.
Autobiographies are inherently very one-sided – and rarely balanced – affairs, and it’s equally apparent in a number of sections of Mansell’s memoir. He writes in a very positive, almost brash, manner and has little, if any, time for those who offered any criticism. There are repetitious ‘hammerings from the press’ in which he always ‘bounces back’ to fight another day. His resilience should be applauded, but it doesn’t make for particularly insightful reading.
Other critics are barely given any mention or ignored completely. Chapman’s successor, Peter Warr, made it clear in his own posthumously-published memoir that Mansell would “never win a race as long as I have a hole in my arse”. It’s an assessment that was clearly incorrect, but all Mansell would say of that volatile chapter was that “tensions surfaced with certain individuals in the team management” – it’s hardly a compelling counter-punch, and he missed the opportunity to really tell his side of the story.
There’s equally little reference given to some of the others who were key players in his success. David Phipps, who lobbied Chapman to get Mansell a drive at Lotus, is mentioned but once. The Williams team’s ace designer Adrian Newey – who was instrumental in designing the all-conquering FW14B that took Mansell to the 1992 title – is also given the briefest of mentions.
His latest book doesn’t entirely add enough to make it a ‘must-read’, although it is compelling in parts with some fascinating, previously untold stories. Equally, however, Mansell does little to counter a commonly-held perception that he is an egomaniac fighting against the rest of the world.
It’s hard not to get the impression that there was rather more that was left unwritten.
Staying On Track is currently available at all major book resellers. Our review copy was kindly provided to us by Simon & Schuster.