Monday, 27 September 2010

Book Review: To Hell And Back, by Niki Lauda (1986)

In this 1986 autobiography, Niki Lauda offers a rare peak behind the velvet curtain that hides the glamour world of Formula 1 from the prying eyes of mere mortals. He also describes the single-minded determination, stubbornness and icy personality needed to reach the summit of the world's most demanding sport.

To Hell And Back is an entertaining and often mesmerizing journey from the late 1960's to the mid 1980's. It starts with Lauda sinking himself up to his ears in debt to pay his way into motorsports against the wishes of his family, and continues at high speed to cover his success winning two championships in 1975 and 1977 with Ferrari, the second championship coming despite his near death at the 1976 Nurburgring crash. His move to Brabham and the infamous fan car, the first retirement, the comeback, his third championship with McLaren in 1984, and his second and final retirement are all also packed into the book.

There are also chapters about technical developments in F1, Lauda's second career building and operating Lauda Air; and a chapter purely focusing on his personality, rigid life-style, and decision-making process.

The book succeeds because it spends most of the time outside the cockpit. Lauda describes his often tortured and sometimes humorous relationships with his family members, bankers, doctors, and some of the sport's most famous personalities like Enzo Ferrari, Ron Dennis, Bernie Eccelstone, Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost.

Through this lens of human interaction Lauda vividly captures what goes on behind the scenes in the sport, including contract negotiations, sponsor appeasement, testing, car development, team orders, and what it takes to win the desperate struggle to be the absolute best among the very best drivers in the world.

And in the short segments when Lauda does take us behind the wheel to describe key races from his career, his writing sharply captures the drama that unfolds, often unseen, as drivers take numerous decisions and continuous calculated risks to outwit each other in the alternate world where speeds of 300 kilometres per hour are normal.

To Hell And Back captures an unapologetic and supremely self-confident champion honestly revealing what it takes to achieve ultimate success while pursuing a most unforgiving passion.

Subtitled "The Courageous Story of Motor Racing's Greatest World Champion".
161 pages plus an Appendix (career records) and Index.
Translated from German by E.J. Crockett.
Published in paperback by Corgi.

The Ace Black Blog Book Review Index is here.

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