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Book Review: Life at the Limit by Professor Sid Watkins

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Life at the LimitI recently finished reading Professor Sid Watkin’s book Life at the Limit, a book about the development of emergency response and safety in Formula 1 racing and his perspective on the sport in general.  Published in 1996, Watkins wrote it after the death of Ayrton Senna in the 1994 F1 season.  Life at the Limit is very similar to Dr. Stephen Olvey’s book Rapid Response:  My Inside Story as a Motor Racing Life Saver.  The overarching theme in both books is the development and progress of emergency response and driver safety in their respective forms of racing and the resistance and struggles they faced in the process.  In both books, a racing driver becomes a focal point.  In Watkins’ case it was a driver no one could save, Ayrton Senna.  For Olvey, it was the incredible save of Alex Zanardi.  American racing fans will be familiar with Olvey than they would be with Watkins, but if you’ve read and enjoyed Olvey’s book you’re sure to enjoy Watkins’ book.

I found Life at the Limit a fascinating and informative read.  Watkins tells the story of the development and improvement of emergency response and safety in Formula 1 and the resistance he faced in the process.  Along the way, he describes many of the responses to well known incidents from not only the track side perspective but at the hospitals as well.  I’ve never been a fan of Bernie Ecclestone, but I have a new found respect for him after reading about his role in bringing Watkins into Formula 1 and pushing through the improvements that Watkins called for.  One wonders how things would have turned out had it not been for Ecclestone’s influence?  Just as interesting are Watkins’ observations on the tracks that F1 visited and continue to visit today; instead of looking at the racing, however, he looked at them from a safety perspective – how safe were the tracks, how did they cooperate with safety personnel, how did the respond to the demands of Formula 1 and the FIA to improve?  I also enjoyed Watkins’ observations on drivers from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s; as the doctor that responded to their incidents and saw to their medical needs on a frequent basis, he had a unique insight into their personalities.

Watkins seemed to be a great story teller and it showed in this book.  It was hard to put down and I finished it quickly because I had to force myself to put it down each time I picked it up!  If you’re an F1 fan, this is a must read book.  If you’re a motor sport fan in general, this is a book you’ll definitely want to add to your reading list.


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