Alan Jones is one of Formula 1’s most recognisable, and engaging characters. As an F1 driver he was as hard as steel, his 1980 World Championship sealed in uncompromising fashion against Brazilian Nelson Piquet at the penultimate round in Montreal, Canada. His path to the sport forged as a wheeler-dealer, an Australian expat in London working all the angles to get his break.
We’re chatting post-launch of his second book, entitled ‘AJ: How Alan Jones Climbed to the Top of Formula 1’. It’s a great, rip-snorter of a read, one that moves significantly on from his first autobiography ‘Driving Ambition’ written in 1981 – which was all about his rise to F1, his early years in the sport, the championship year in 1980 and his abrupt initial retirement from Grand Prix racing at the end of the following season.
36 years later, and AJ, as he’s always affectionately been known, was ready to write ‘the next chapter,’ this time with Australian sporting journalist Andrew Clarke.
“It’s been quite a while since I did my first book, and that was co-written with Keith Botsford, who was the chief motoring editor for The Times newspaper in London,” Jones says.
“Somebody said to me eight months ago, AJ, why don’t you do another book? It’s about time, there’s been plenty of water under the bridge since the first one.”
And this one is about as different as you could get from the structured, fairly standard first volume. Much like his life experience, it’s a wild ride, that begins by recounting the already covered ground at racing speed – his childhood, early years through the sport, championship year – before getting onto the post-1981 material, which includes plenty of fantastic, never-before heard stories like why he really pulled out of the 1985 South African Grand Prix during the apartheid era.
Through it all he’s brutally honest, dealing with a range of topics from teammate battles, to his family and his business dealings with a level of frank openness that many professional sportspeople would find impossible to do in this day and age. All of which is Jones’ much-appreciated style.
“I’ve always been a bloke that sort of speaks my mind,” the now-70-year-old says.
“And I think if you think something, and you believe in it, why not say it? I’m totally against this politically correct nonsense going around at the moment. I mean it’s boring and particularly in terms of the Formula 1 drivers, it stifles them. A lot of them would probably like to say a lot more than they do, but they’re restrained by various bits and pieces.”
Reading the book, you get the feeling you’re standing at the bar with AJ having a chat. The chapters talk through his life so far, chronologically, but they’re punctuated by two-page breakouts on different people he’s met – mostly drivers, like Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet, etc – providing additional perspective.
All the old favourite stories are there, like the time the drunk in the crowd played the trumpet after Jones won the 1977 Austrian Grand Prix for Shadow when the organisers didn't have the Australian national anthem; or when the late, great Sir John Surtees chased him to sign an option, but there’s so many more worth picking up the book for.
Few autobiographies are like this; engaging and real.
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