Gary Harstein: F1 Doc

To most of us the most famous F1 Doc was of course Sid Watkins, who ironically died the day was launched. Yet Sid was never prolific on our TV screens but we know through others of his tireless endeavours to reduce the F1 driver death toll and improve medical facilities and safety for all involved in the sport.

Gary Hartstein’s association with Sid began way back in 1986 and when Sid retired in 2005, Gary was given Professor Watkins blessing and duly appointed by FIA president Max Mosley as Sid’s natural successor. To us the viewer, the transformation was seamless due to the time Sid had taken to mentor and develop Gary.

Whilst I knew of Gary, I became particularly aware of him more around the time of the inaugural Austin GP last year. TJ13 was at times the only site to be following this story. Here are the main events.

News Nov 15th

News Dec 17th

Jan 7th: The mystery behind the sacking of FIA doctor Gary Hartstein 

Jan 9th: Harstein begins to tell the world 

Below is a documentary published just last week. I found this a compelling watch and it is a fascinating delve into the life of an F1 professional who lived and breathed Formula 1 but operated beyond our sight. Gary’s personality and passion radiate through the screen as he talks about his life in F1.

I’ve asked Gary to pop by and answer any questions you have, but I know he’s holidaying in Paris at present so bear with him if he takes a day or so to reply.

Firstly Gary has penned a few words for us by way of introduction to the film Mario Muth has produced about him.

“Hi everyone… By the way TJ, I’ve been loving reading your stuff. Don’t read too much motorsport and you are a regular stop for me.

Mario contacted me through Twitter, with a link to his video portrait of Darren Heath. He asked if he could do something similar with me. Three minutes into Darren’s video it was
clear the answer was yes. The look, the light, the editing, and the quality of the interview itself got me.

I’m a bit of a tech junkie, and love photo/video kit, so watching Mario set up was a blast. I just kept thinking that he’s going through an awful lot of trouble (driving down from London
to Liège!) for this. Reassured myself that all I had to do was answer, long form. That, I thought, I can do.

When Mario asked if I had any photos, I pulled out “the archives”. Hadn’t looked at any of them in years, and it was a lot of fun, and not a little moving, to relive things this way.
There’s a furtive unintentional glimpse at my favourite musician of all time. See if you notice it; mostly, enjoy Mario’s work!”

22 responses to “Gary Harstein: F1 Doc

  1. Hi Gary. I tweeted you thanks at the back end of last year for your disclosure on twitter of the ‘inner world’ of which had shunned you, namely the FIA. You replied to me and many others so I know you love the new media technology that has joined F1 fans to their sport. I watched this interview at the weekend and was hanging on every word, I amazed you haven’t had more exposure to the world as you’re clearly a charismatic guy. Anyway, I did notice that one of the things that you mentioned on the interview (and TJ had reported this back in 2012 too) that you’d proposed a common forum for all motorsport medical people could be a part of. An organisation that could communicate through various means INCLUDING a website forum. I think it’s clear to us tech savvy fans that the FIA and indeed most of the official F1 organisation does not understand new media.

    My question to you is; do you think that the FIA felt threatened by a new ‘club’ (your proposed motorsport medical organisation) that could unsettle the status quo, which could organise and communicate to each other through a media they didn’t understand or control? If true I wondered if they thought that you could gain power by threatening a boycott or something, particularly after your valid and common sense suggestions leading up to Bahrain. I wonder if they felt they need the whole of F1, teams et al, to move as one on the issue. I mean, look what happened to Force India last year with the TV exposure!

    Thanks Gary.

  2. Being candid Gary, the timing of events last Autumn was not lost on me.

    I have no direct experience of employment contracts with the FIA, but contract renewals/terminations left so late are pretty unusual.

    You were clearly highly thought of by the Prof and a matter of weeks after his death, the FIA acted as they did.

  3. Hi Gary,

    I appreciate the work you did or tried to do for Formula One. I know this may not be the best question to ask someone who recently lost his job but how would someone go about becoming the medical delegate for Formula One today? Surely not everyone takes the same random route you did.

    If my initial question didn’t make sense, below are some more specific questions.

    Does college choice matter?
    Are there any uncommon studies I should do to prepare for med school?
    MD vs DO?
    What specialty or sub-specialties?
    What would you advise post-med school?
    How would you want to enter the motorsport medicine community?

    I of course know there are politics involved and the position isn’t exactly won on merit but I would appreciate any advice you might have. Thanks

  4. thejudge13 –

    one of the stats that I can never find, but think would be interesting to know, is following –

    How many km, or laps of GPs has Sid Watkins led (or Bernd Mailander..)?

    Must be up there with Schumacher I reckon… 🙂

  5. So, Gary Harstein, you were fired because you are a tweeter and you wanted to set up forum on the web for the F1 Medical community. Really? Is that what happened (Sob!) What did you actually do? Seriously how did you earn your money in advancing F1 safety? Falling asleep in the medical car and smoking cigars (they thought the medical car was on fire, Ho Ho Ha Ha) don’t really cut it. By the way it is not unusual to get no notification of a contract termination until the last moment, there are more things in heaven and earth etc. Get real, and the grateful F1 acolytes who think you are letting them know some special insight need to get real too. Just day to day stuff [mod]

    • What I particularly like about this work from Mario and Gary was the down to earth nature of Gary’s story.

      In form and style it sits in juxtaposition to most of the media reported hype and corporate mantra’s we get from team principles and drivers every F1 race weekend.

      My experience is that in the world of the F1 circus, finding such normality can be quite surprising.

      Sounds like you expect everyone live in a John le Carré novel John.

  6. Exacty the opposite actually, he seemed to be seduced by the F1 circus and viewed himself to be the appointed successor to Saint Sid and was surprised that it got real. Do not get your John le Carre reference at all, mainly because I never found him worth reading.

    • …probably too many big words… 😉

      BTW – it was cold war espionage. Drama from one minute to the next kinda stuff…

      Anyway you’re entitled to your opinion… its a free world here…

      • I can’t remember the originator but the quote always made me smile,

        Opinions are like arseholes, we all have one. Several unquestionably 2…

      • “probably too many big words…”. that was so weak, I’ve read him but don’t rate him.
        However I really enjoy your blog

    • You wanna try following someone live on twitter when their having multi-layered conversations with several people for about 2 hours…

      I was pulling my hair out to put Gary’s tweets and his commentator’s questions and responses in a semblance of consecutive order.

      I guess no one else could be bothered

  7. Hi Gary,
    what is your best moment in F1? and what was the most heart-stopping moment for you?

    Really love this feature!

  8. Gary – in your video you mention the interesting things that are discussed in the medical car during the race (once you guys have woken from your siesta). Can you share some of the things that stand out? Some explicitness from accidents such as Grosjean at Spa?

    Also, you mention the guy that took over from you was only a F1 fan rather than a motorsport doctor. Do you think he may have been able to bring new ways of thinking into the position that could be beneficial to motorsport? The reason why I ask is that Dave Brailsford is well known for doing things differently in British Cycling, bringing in people that are not necessarily from the same sport but have passion and drive for success. IT seem to work for them so could it work in F1?

  9. Hi Gary,

    Huge thanks for doing this feature on TJ13.

    I have a couple of questions.

    Firstly, what do you feel has been your most rewarding achievement from your time spent in Formula 1, whether it was alongside “The Prof” or after he retired? I am fascinated to see if one particular memory of your career stands out the most where you felt the most “satisfaction” as it were.

    Secondly, did you ever have any specific advice from sid in regards to progressing the magnificent work he had already done for the sport? And do you therefore feel that the continued work will not progress in the right manner from now on? Is there any particular part of the sport you really miss now?

  10. YOUR HONOR: thanks for picking up the video. Flattered. You’ve been one of the only people to have picked up on, and understood, the situation since it went public. Kudos. I’m not sure the timing of my dismissal had anything to do with Sid passing away. He had just recently been effectively marginalised by changes at the top of the Institute.

    CRAIG: not sure that the proposed society (at one point the Institute wanted to call it a “Faculty”, disregarding all the negative associations everyone has with faculties!) was viewed as constituting a threat. With only a few very obvious exceptions, most motorsport medical personnel are totally apolitical, want to do their jobs under good conditions, and to advance the field. I think it’s more likely that lack of contact with the reality of how motorsports medicine is actually practiced by the medical hierarchy allowed focus to come off this objective.

    JAMES: no one makes being the medical delegate an objective. Even motorsports medicine isn’t a career goal. No one, not even the top guys around ever could or would make it a full time job. So first of all, you need to want to be a doc (or nurse, or paramedic etc) just to be a doc (etc). I’m not a great advisor about med school admissions! College counts. Learn lots – history, economics, how to write and speak english properly. Become a citizen! Once you’re a doc (or nurse, etc) pick a field you love every day, not just on weekends. If that trains you to deal with trauma, fine. If not, take ATLS, PHTLS, or what may be the FIA’s Motorsport Medicine course (if it ever happens). Go to your local circuit, rally, drag strip, whatever you like. Keep going. Visit other events. Get experience. Let stuff happen. See where you go.

    JON B: uhhhhh…. ok

    VETTE: Best moment might’ve been first fast lap of Monaco at my first visit in 2005 (this was one of the races that I didn’t accompany Sid to). Totally hallucinatory. Terrifying. Wonderful. Most heart stopping? Probably watching Ralf Schumacher’s second accident at Indy, a year after and at the same place as, his terrible first accident. Thinking damn that’s not something one wants to do twice.

    DON_Q: Interesting thought. During my second race weekend with Sid (Spa, 1991) he turned to me and said something like “you know old boy, you have potential. in 10 years, you’ll start to have an idea of what’s going on”. funny thing is, he was basically right. to think outside the box, you have to have an idea of what the box is, what it does, how it works. and in this case, you have to have an idea of trauma care, pre-hospital medicine, etc. More than one gleans by being a motorsports fan. Have a few pretty surprising examples of how this actually DOESNT work (dumb ideas that almost made it into the regs), but they’re for the book! And we mustn’t confuse the “boss”, with the “hands”, Ian Roberts. Ian knows what he’s doing, and will single handedly keep the other guys out of trouble by being competent.

    JAMES: most rewarding? probably the book. Or the number of friends I’ve made around the world. I miss them. I miss saying “see you next week” at the end of a race. Petaling Street and Casino Square and walking back to the hotel at midnight after quails in Singapore, still sweating in 37° weather.

    • When I say “become a citizen” i mean a GOOD citizen – able to make reasoned choices and not be lied to by candidates etc. the pre-med stuff is the easy part.

    • Little anecdote about You and Dr.Watkins,
      I remember watching the 1994 Imola Grand Prix as a young boy, at home in Italy with my father.
      After Senna’s crash, the whole room went quiet, i knew instantly it was a serious situation, not a single word was spoken. Then the RAI commentator said DR.Watkins had arrived at the scene, and after having heard so many stories from my father and uncles about him, i looked to my father and asked him:”he’s going to be allright now, isn’t he?” My father said it broke his heart, bur that was the kind of impact that Dr.Watkins had, not just a great Doc but also a great personality.

      Many years later i was watching the 2011 Monaco Grand Prix with my son, and after Sergio Perez’ frightening crash the whole room went quiet, then the tv commentator said :” Gary Hartstein F1’s senior medic is at thye scene”.
      My son looked at me the same way i looked at my father, and he to assumed after being told stories about you and Dr.Watkins that Sergio was going to be alright now, because of the simple fact that you had arrived.
      “Yes Alberto, he is” i told him, and luckily he was.
      Thanks for everything Doc.

      • A bit speechless. Thanks for this, you’ve made my day. Enjoy the race this weekend!

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