“The Science of the Racer’s Brain”: book reviewed

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A joint collaboration between cognitive science professor Dr Otto Lappi and race driver performance analyst Alan Dove, ‘The Science of the Racer’s Brain’ taps into – as the preface notes – the previously vacant gap in the market for a book on the neuroscience of motorsport.

Motorsport science and understanding driver’s brains has advanced somewhat in the past three decades, from a time when Professor Sid Watkins would routinely present x-rays of an empty skull as a driver’s brain scan, to a far stronger appreciation of the neuroscience behind the sport’s greatest athletes.

Drawing together insights from both the cutting edge of neuroscience and elite driving performance, ‘The Science of the Racer’s Brain’ comprehensively unpacks the different components of the topic.

Crucially for a book primarily about brain science (and I’m writing this as someone whose GCSE science paper remains the highlight of the examiner’s Christmas party), it is well-written and accessible. My complete absence of scientific knowledge (according to my biology teacher ‘photosynthesis’ isn’t a Smashing Pumpkins b-side) means that I’ll evade trying to summarise the key points – as, frankly, Lappi and Dove do a far better and more comprehensive job than I ever could.

Another big plus is the avoidance of mythology and hyperbole. Yes, elite racing drivers have a differentiated skill set and perform in extraordinary conditions – but you don’t have to go full Buxton to make the point.

‘The Science of the Racer’s Brain’ is a serious book and deep dive into an interesting topic. That said, it won’t be for everyone – ghost-written autobiography this is not – but for anyone with an interest in a hitherto little explored aspect of the sport, there is plenty to enjoy.

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Rating four out of five

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The Science of the Racer’s Brain

Authors: Dr Otto Lappi & Alan Dove
Publisher: Dr Otto Lappi
Published: February 2022
Pages: 270
Price: £19.99
ISBN: 9789529458547

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Ben Evans
Motorsport commentator Ben is RaceFans' resident bookworm. Look out for his verdict on the latest motor racing publications on Sundays....

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  • 5 comments on ““The Science of the Racer’s Brain”: book reviewed”

    1. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I am a psychologist by trade, and have worked with pilot performance and aviation safety, so this is right up my alley, but I had never heard of this book before. Ordered right away, so that’s the next week’s train commute time sorted.

      Again, thanks.

      Reply moderated
    2. Thanks for the review.

    3. I think the lack of understanding about how important the brain is in performance can’t be overstated. I remember a study released back in the 70s comparing athletes from several sports and how they used different parts of the brain.
      One thing that stood out about racing drivers was their ability to concentrate at or near-maximum for longer periods and only ‘relax’ when on the straights.

    4. Definitely sounds like a worthwhile read. I know I’d be hopeless as a driver. I can do a decent lap in 10 on a sim but I can’t help my mind wandering or getting frazzled and end up making the most ridiculous mistakes even though I can fundamentally drive the thing. I’d also be terrified travelling at those speeds in reality… so thanks but no thanks! I’ll happily admire from a distance. Sounds like this book might help me understand where I’m lacking!

      Also, the term “going full Buxton” definitely needs to catch on!

    5. By the way, it’s only £19.99 if you want the hardback version. Surprisingly, there’s already a paperback version as well.

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