Sid Watkins' Beyond the Limit Misses the Mark When It Comes to Formula One Memoirs

Photo: FIA (Getty)

The racing world would be a far worse one if it weren’t for Professor Sid Watkins, the neurosurgeon-cum-FIA Formula One Safety and Medical Delegate, head of the medical team, and first responder at crash sites around the world for a stunning 26 years. Imagine being able to take a peek inside his mind, just for a moment, and you’ll have the premise of Beyond the Limit.

(Welcome back to the Jalopnik Race Car Book Club, where we all get together to read books about racing and you send in all your spicy hot takes. This month, we’re looking at Beyond the Limit by Professor Sid Watkins, maybe the only man in racing who can be credited with saving hundreds of lives.)

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m going to come right out and say it: Sid Watkins’ books are very tedious in my personal opinion. I’m not faulting the man himself, whose role in Formula One’s safety advancements is pretty damn incredible. I have massive respect for anyone who did their part to make sure drivers stopped dying. His writing style… leaves a lot to be desired. I’m a student in a creative writing graduate program. I spend my free time telling folks how I believe they can improve their work—it’s unavoidable when you sit down to read anything else.

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Last summer I read Life at the Limit and enjoyed it, but I can’t say quite as much for Beyond the Limit. This book focuses on the safety changes that have been made since the release of Life at the Limit, starting in the late 90s and moving forward, followed by personal portraits of a laundry list of F1's greatest drivers.

I think part of what threw me off here was the organization of the book itself. The years of 1996-1999 are covered in relatively sparse detail. They mainly consist of anecdotes, the things Professor Watkins remembers most vividly. But when we get to 2000, though, things change. We move from anecdotes to a race-by-race recount of the season, which feels like a pretty jarring swap when you move from the fast-paced previous seasons. And then, as mentioned before, the meat of the books is mostly just Watkins’ personal memories of individual drivers.

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It’s a short book, but it feels disjointed and rushed, more a collection of reminiscences than a narrative which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But if you’re a reader like me, one who isn’t familiar with F1 in the late 90s, it’s incredibly hard to follow. Without the context (setting, climate, who’s doing what) in which to place Professor Watkins’ novel, it feels like you’re the only one in the room left out of the joke.

I have mad respect for Sid Watkins. His tenure in Formula One is the reason great drivers can race their hearts out without the specter of death hanging over their every move. I just don’t think Beyond the Limit is particularly worth seeking out unless you’re a big fan of late 90s F1.

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And that’s all we have for this month’s Jalopnik Race Car Book Club! Make sure you tune in again on February 1, 2019. We’re going to be reading The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History by Jason Vuic. And don’t forget to drop those hot takes (and recommendations) in the comments or at ewerth [at] jalopnik [dot] com!

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