27 Jun Where Is The Limit
By some estimates, drivers had a 33 percent chance of surviving. In the days before seat belts and roll bars, they were crushed, burned, beheaded with unnerving regularity.
The Limit: Book Review
I wipe a bead of sweat from my brow and grip the steering wheel. I can feel the rumble of 190 horses less than an inch away from my torso. The coffin-like monocoque feels flimsy and rattles with every step I put on the gas pedal. My job is to win and then if possible, escape with my life. Moments later I come to my senses and I am no longer sitting in a 1961 Ferrari 156. I have a blanket spread across me and I am sitting upright in bed sixty years later. Instead of a steering wheel to peer over, I see just a book filled with wilted pages thanks to my sweating finger tips. This is the kind of power the author imposes on his readers. I could have sworn I was there. I could smell burnt rubber, spilled champagne… and blood.
Michael Cannell takes his readers to the eleventh season of Formula One. He tells a tale between two obscure men in a struggle to find themselves in a sport where life becomes normal at 300 kilometres per hour. A book of thirds, Cannell delves deep into the personal lives and minds of protagonist American technocrat named Phil Hill and another – a German count called Wolfgang von Trips. The final third is the culmination of both forces, meeting at a head in 1961 in a battle for world champion status, national heroism and most importantly, self-actualisation.
Cannell perfects his objective mastery in all 285 pages, and pays poetic reference to the many characters that helped shape the careers of Hill and von Trips. He blends these anecdotes so seamlessly; it’s a shock to realise that you have been gently whisked away from the main story once you return to it. These little daydreams help frame a romantic and deathly dangerous picture in the reader’s mind. One can’t help but imagine the story in sepia. He shares personal stories of Enzo Ferrari, the estranged family relations of Phil Hill and the insecurities of masculinity for Wolfgang von Trips. We discover new frontiers in the lives of drivers we otherwise knew very little about. What the author excels at is his extensive knowledge of team personal. He opens the door to the masterminds behind engineering advancements, past drivers and mentors. Cannell also pays a large tribute to fact and accuracy through the duration of the book, explaining in intricate detail the specifics of each car and track, and just how they came to be. This is proven when attention is given to his 23 pages of references, where he scoured through 65-year-old German newspapers, personal diaries of driver’s girl friends and family memoirs.
The Limit, much like a balanced racing machine, provides an equalised journey through each chapter. Michael’s fluid ability with pen and story-telling changes tempo in all the right areas, describing the frightening pace of a Formula One car, or the deranged sex lives of British and Italian racing icons. He feeds classical European stereotypes by reporting the stories of the very men who created them.
The book covers one of the greatest rivalries sport has ever seen and gives a fresh perspective to the epoch. A little more than a decade earlier and the world was in one of its darkest wars to date. In these times, human emotion was passionate in every sphere of life. Motor sport in this golden era of racing was every bit as intense as a war, be it with fewer casualties, but casualties none the less. Lovers loved intensely, racers raced to death and the only certainty was uncertainty. Drivers like Hill wondered through the pits in phobic struts, wondering about tomorrow, whilst others like von Trips enjoyed celebrity stardom and a near-permanent entourage of female attention. Michael Cannell illuminates the 1950s and 60s in The Limit. He shakes your imagination with violence, carnage, death, romance and victory from first page to the last. Praised by Murray Walker, The Limit is one of the greater motor sport literatures available. It is as educational as it is entertaining and supports the needs of every Formula One enthusiast.
Verdict? A definite page turner.
This has appeared on TJ13 – Formula One
…and Theformulaoneissue – Formula One
…and TheSportSpace – Formula One