Staying at home can feel a little bit dull if you’d rather be driving. And there are likely to be a few more weeks of this left yet. But luckily we’ve got some entertaining ways to get you through them, thanks to a selection of books, films, songs and TV series with distinctly automotive themes. They’re all absolute classics of their genre, so get stuck in and enjoy!
Watching the wheels by Damon Hill. Is this the best racing driver autobiography out there? There are plenty to choose from (Niki Lauda’s ‘To Hell and Back’ is highly recommended too) but Damon’s is written with such searing honesty that it’s one you’ll never forget. A brilliant read.
My greatest defeat by Will Buxton. Whereas most books focus on success, this is all about how racing and rally drivers deal with failure. Buxton takes some of the best-known names in motorsport and finds out what they learned from their lowest moments. Inspirational.
The Death of Ayrton Senna by Richard Williams. A book written about the most iconic driver of the modern age, by the greatest sports writer of the modern age. That’s quite some claim but read it for yourself and see if you agree.
Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance by Robert M Persig. One of those cult novels that does in fact live up to the hype. It’s where philosophy meets the road, in a genuinely life-changing book.
Piloti, che gente by Enzo Ferrari. The challenge these days will be getting hold of this in English, but it's still worth it if you can only look at the pictures. A beautifully evocative and lavishly illustrated book written in the early 1980s by none other than Enzo Ferrari, in which he forensically dissects the personalities of all the drivers he has known. A work of art.
Staying on Track by Nigel Mansell. The story of when ‘Red 5’ ruled the world, in Nigel Mansell’s own words. It’s like being right back in the 1980s, when ‘Mansellmania’ was at its height.
Le Mans (1971). Probably the definitive motor racing film, starring of course Steve McQueen. It's short on dialogue but huge on authenticity, with the real celebrity in the film being the stunning Porsche 917 (as well as McQueen’s famous square TAG Monaco watch).
Grand Prix (1966). Featuring several real stars of the era, such as Juan Manuel Fangio and Graham Hill, Grand Prix is a dramatised account of the triumph and tragedy that summed up Formula 1 in the 1960s. It’s an old film, but still makes you shiver today.
Senna (2010). This is really a long-format documentary rather than a feature film, but has a haunting intensity from start to finish, enhanced by the fact that you know exactly how it will end. Cinematography at its best, which will appeal to even non-motorsport fans.
Weekend of a champion (1972). The best film about motorsport that not many people have heard of tells the story of Jackie Stewart’s 1971 Monaco Grand Prix weekend. It was directed by Roman Polanski, shown at the 1972 Berlin Film Festival, and then left unscreened for another 40 years. Which is probably why you’ve never heard of it.
C’était un rendezvous (1976). It’s ironic that the most captivating automotive film ever made is only eight minutes long. To say too much about Claude Lelouch’s masterpiece would ruin the whole premise, but it’s something that will stay with you forever. Apparently it stars a Formula 1 driver, but we’ll never know who.
The Chain by Fleetwood Mac. No list of automotive songs would be complete without this. It remains the enduring soundtrack to Formula 1, which was originally written about a relationship falling apart, despite a strong bond keeping the couple together.
Pipe by Christina Aguilera. You may wonder this has to do with cars but bear with us: there’s a mystery artist called XNDA who is credited with co-writing and performing the song. XNDA is believed to be Lewis Hamilton, and the multiple grand prix champion – a good friend of Aguilera’s – has never denied nor confirmed the rumours.
Turbo Lover by Judas Priest. The title makes it pretty clear what the song is about, and nothing screams the head-banging, glam metal era of the 1980s more than Judas Priest. Like the 1980s themselves, turbos are back in fashion these days.
Architecture, Morality, Ted and Alice by Half Man Half Biscuit. This is about as obscure as it gets, but to our knowledge it’s the only song that pays direct tribute to a world rally champion. The opening lines are: “The wonderful dexterity of Hannu Mikkola/makes me want to shake hands with the whole of Finland.”
Speedway at Nazareth by Mark Knopfler. A beautiful tribute to the American racing scene by a legendary guitarist. Knopfler is friends with former Ferrari driver Stefan Johansson, who also raced in America and inspired him to write the song, with racing being a metaphor for perseverance.
Faster by George Harrison. The ex-Beatle wrote this song as a tribute to Sir Jackie Stewart, during a year out in 1977 that he spent travelling the world with the Formula 1 circus. The single also raised funds for a cancer charity set up to honour former racer Gunnar Nilsson from Sweden.
Drive to Survive (Netflix). A new approach to Formula 1, typified by high drama and bad language (especially from Haas team principal Guenther Steiner, who has now become famous for it). It’s a phenomenal series, bringing the spectacle of F1 to a whole new audience.
World Rally Championship (Red Bull TV). Here’s something you may not know: you can watch the entire World Rally Championship (all three rounds of it so far) for free on Red Bull TV. It’s on the internet and on the Red Bull TV app and provides the most spectacular in-car action that you’ll see…anywhere, for the time being.
The Grand Tour (Amazon). There’s something about the Clarkson, May and Hammond dynamic that just works. They’re currently filming the latest series despite working from home, which Hammond says is tricky: “if your job consists of gallivanting around the world driving supercars at racetracks in exotic locations with two other idiots.”
Wheeler Dealers (Discovery). The automotive equivalent to all those shows on TV about doing up houses. Strange how the concept becomes so much more interesting when it's all about cars instead.
Top Gear (BBC). Comfortingly familiar, as it’s now in its 28th (!) series with 214 episodes, enhanced by the presence of former Autocar journalist Chris Harris. Still the original motoring show that others aspire to.