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on 7 September 2001
Viewing Grand Prix motor racing through the wonderfully perceptive eyes of Professor Watkins means that anyone interested in the sport should read this excellent account. Obviously respected, often revered by those with whom he works, he gives vivid and sometimes moving recollections spanning the many years of his involvement. Humour and pathos make regular appearances; his dry wit, an essential tool of his trade perhaps, serves to punctuate what is essentially a serious book. His incisive précis of drivers from the last three decades makes for compulsive reading, the character analyses are intriguing and revealing. Undoubtedly a pivotal character in the world of Formula One, the professor has been instrumental in saving many lives. However, he's also witnessed intimately the consequences of appalling accidents in which lives were lost. He is perhaps uniquely qualified to commentate on the sport, his dedication and professionalism making him a hero in this modern amphitheatre which now embraces the globe. Superbly readable. Once is not enough.
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on 2 January 2014
My family are steeped in motor racing - my parents were both amateur rally drivers back in 'the day' (i.e. the 60s - lots of silverware in the attic!) and I virtually grew up at Silverstone at club meetings over Bank Holiday weekends (we only lived an hour away when I was growing up) and my first visit, apparently, was when I was two weeks old! We are all keen drivers, learning as children thrashing cars round fields on private land, and even now in my 40s I drive for relaxation or just for fun (although since moving to Jersey 23 years ago my opportunities to go very far are limited!). I grew up hearing my father eulogise Jim Clark - in an age, in the early 70s, when many people's first though to do with British F1 drivers were either Stirling Moss (who my father never rated) or Jackie Stewart (definitely rated!) this 'Jim Clark' seemed to lead to a lot of blank faces among my friends! I first got into F1 seriously in 1980 when I was 12/13, and my favourite driver (I cut out all the pictures from 'Motoring News' and stuck them on my bedroom wall!) was Keke Rosberg. Oh, how old do I feel watching Nico now!!

But, to put a serious angle on it, the early days, up to the mid-70s especially, were dangerous times for F1. Anyone whose seen the awful footage of Tom Pryce's death, or Roger Williamson's, won't need convincing of that. But F1 was un-regulated in terms of safety and anyone who spoke out or tried to change things (step forward again, Sir Jackie) was branded a coward by many other drivers, team owners and circuit managers (and the latter of course, would have to spend money to implement any safety changes). The death of Ronnie Peterson was the 'last straw' for many who were trying to bring some sort of common sense and order to the safety in a sport that was known for crashes and deaths - and that's really where 'Prof' started his career as the medical eyes and ears of the sport, a role he continued until his retirement.

The book is not - I must emphasise - a glorified account of death, blood and gore. Anyone buying/reading the book hoping for sensational behind-the-scenes details of a gruesome nature will be disappointed. Yes, there are graphic accounts in places, but they are rooted in the Prof's medical note-taking and he approaches his story-telling without glamourising the events he describes. In addition, his story only really starts in the late 70s, so any references to the 'famous' incidents (or should that be infamous incidents?) such as Lauda's or Cevert's are very much in hindsight.

If you have any kind of interest in F1 this is a book you should read - the Prof was highly respected right up to his death, and rightly so, by everyone involved in the sport.
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on 27 September 2001
If you like your F1 and have a favourite driver then you'll probably be able to carry on supporting the driver for longer because of the work of this man. Not only has he been able to make F1 safer but he can write too. An interesting story well recounted. I can recommend it wholeheartedly.
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Professor Watkins is the official doctor for the Formula One Grand Prix circus as it travels the world. He has had this role since the late seventies and his involvement in motorsport medicine goes back even longer. Without the fame accruing from this, he would still be recognised as an eminent neurosurgeon. Fans, drivers and officials alike recognise his role.
In this book, he tells the story of his involvement in Formula One racing. He covers the years from 1978 to 1994 with a few notes about the following year. The book treads a path between autobiography and history or documentary.
My first comment about this book is that it is well written and a really enjoyable read. Of course, the author covers the many accidents which he has attended in his work. Beyond that, he writes about the personalities involved and also the process by which the current high standards of medical care have been introduced into the sport.
In that latter area, one character stands out. It is clear that without the force of Bernie Ecclestone behind them, many of the improvements to medical care would not have taken place. The two men each understand their own and the others job and they do not get in each others way and trust each other immensly.
Reading parts such as the description of the death of Gilles Villeneuve brought a tear to my eye. Other parts, such as the tale of Gerhard Berger testing the indestructability of Ayrton Senna's new carbon fibre briefcase had me laughing out loud.
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on 17 September 2012
Sid Watkins helped turn Formula 1 from the deadly sport it was in the 1960s and 1970s into the sport it is today. It's still dangerous and every driver faces risks in every race, but they are now supported by a high-tech, no-expense-spared medical system. The creation of that medical system owes much to Watkins, a neurosurgeon who oversaw purpose-built medical centres at each track, helicopter transport and rapid-response medical cars. In this book, we read about some of the stories behind Watkin's F1 career and some of the accidents where he saved lives, as well as some of those in which he did not. The chapters where Watkins describes his favourite/least favourite tracks and the drivers who raced in the 70s/80/90s feel like padding, but otherwise this is an excellent insight into the transformation of Formula 1 racing.
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on 25 August 2011
Sid Watkins 'The Prof' has done more for F1 driver safety than probably any other man alive. An eminent Neurological surgeon, Sid was the man in the medical car that all loved but none hoped to see in F1! This is an interesting story of the development of safety in F1 from the beginning, when there was none to speak of (apart from other drivers & kind spectators mostly!), to the aftermath of Imola and the multiple rush of changes (Not all of them good, or wise, and what Senna himself would have hated - such as the changes at Eau Rouge in Spa which were just sacrilege!) following the death of the late, great Ayrton Senna (to whom Sid was a great friend and paternal figure. The pages on his attendance of his friend at the fatal crash are incredibly sad and difficult but show a unique professionalism).

The story is never boring and the serious business of F1 safety, and the battles for it, is broken by funny, witty observations of great races, racers and what they get up to when they're off track. Senna, Villeneuve, Rosberg, Prost, de Angelis, Mansell, Berger, Stewart, etc., all ripple through the stories in funny anecdotes and nostalgia to lighten the darker moments.

If you're looking for gore and crash stories, don't read this. It details F1's darker moments with honest sensitivity and an objective observational professional distance as you would expect from such a great man and strong personality. As an F1 fan, I enjoyed this, and non-fans of motorsport might enjoy it for the human stories throughout.
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on 21 April 2014
I was half way through this book, when I bought the follow up. That'll give you an idea of what I thought of this one.

Sid Watkins was at the forefront of changing, not only the physical specifications, but also of the culture within F! as regards safety. This book looks at the safety of the sport before, and after he came to the sport at the behest of Bernie Ecclestone. As well as looking at the safety, the accidents, some fatal, some not, there's pen portraits of some of the big hitters during his time in the sport.

As well as the sporting side, there are several appendices showing the documentation required by the FIA to ensure that any circuit meets the requirements laid down under the safety regulations, along with a fairly exhaustive look at the research carried out on the stresses a race driver is under during a race.

This contains something for everyone, regardless if it is little vignettes like the medical car overtaking the cars during the first lap, to historical facts such as the infighting that went on to allow the medical car to follow the cars on the first lap. Regardless whether you are a long term fan, or a new fan, there's something in this book for you.
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on 23 August 2001
In this book you can review almost all incidents from 1978 up to 1997 getting the medical point of view from Prof. Sid Watkins. Specialls details about Senna and Villeneuve good reading
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on 25 April 2014
I'm afraid I found this a rather boring read. The only parts that interested me were where the author gives an insight into the Grand Prix drivers of the 70s, 80s and 90s, but this accounted for only a small percentage of the book as a whole. Another negative is that 30% of the book is taken up with appendices. Disappointing.
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on 6 August 2013
I found the structure of the book a little disjointed, but leaving that aside I found the Professors anecdotes and medical insights thoroughly absorbing. So much so I brought the follow on book "Beyond the Limit" which is a similar format but focussed more on later seasons and characters.
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