1: Life On The Limit is an action documentary that shows the glamour, speed, danger and excitement through the years of Formula 1. In an era when the sport was terrifyingly dangerous, the drivers were revered as rock stars with talent and charisma. However many of them paid the ultimate price – their lives. Those who survived racing during the harrowing times became its leaders. They stood up for the sport to do more in saving the lives of those involved.
Thanks to the popularity of the Formula 1 documentary Senna a couple of years ago, it seems that the motor sport has finally made its way into the film world. Last year we also had the magnificent film ‘Rush’ from director Ron Howard about the on and off track rivalry between James Hunt and Nikki Lauder. Whereas those two films solely focussed on one area of the sport, 1: Life On The Limit creates a documentary that zooms through most of the key moments in the rich history of Formula 1, starting out with a look at how the sport came to be and it’s less than interesting drivers and courses. It shines a light on the safety for the drivers at that time, in cars that were never really tested for the races thoroughly before being put on the track. There are moments of information and footage that show how indifferent the whole sport was during the inauguration years.
It then moves forward a decade to the 70’s, and we see how the sport has evolved and become a breeding ground of the cool and hip drivers. During this section it spends far too long on the rivalry between Lauder and Hunt rather than looking at the overall picture during those years, and with the release of Rush still firmly in people’s minds it feels like going over old ground. There are some funny archival footage between the two guys which raises a smile. But we wanted to see more of those other drivers competing during those years and how they coped with just two guys stealing all the lime light.
Another large chuck of the documentary is given over to how dangerous the sport was back then, and the inordinate amount of deaths caused by many different areas of the sport, not knowing how to approach the safety aspect. During these moments we see most of the crashes, which is very harrowing to watch. It’s a struggle to continue to watch as they seem to never stop showing any of these tragic incidents. Sadly the doc quickly moves on after we see that safety precautions are put in place from the governing body. It would have been nice to have more interviews with some of the people from FIA about this time, instead we see a selection of drivers and owners all rallying against the body without any comeback. The 80’s are zipped over far too quickly and we are right back to seeing how dangerous the sport still is.
1: Life On The Limit has some fantastic archival footage from all the decades of F1, alongside interviews with many legends of the sport. The issue with the documentary is that it doesn’t know what story it wants to tell, as it lurches from history into health & safety then into rivalry. It feels too lightweight to tackle any of these in greater detail. An enjoyable watch, but it would have benefited from being a serialised TV documentary that got to focus on all aspects of Formula 1, with plenty of time devoted to everything.