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F1 doctor Sid Watkins passes away

F1 doctor Professor Sid Watkins, best known for spearheading the sport's safety campaigns, has died at the age of 84.
Professor Sid Watkins, best known for his efforts to improve safety in F1, has died just days after celebrating his 84th birthday. He had been battling cancer for some time.

The renowned neurosurgeon spent 26 years as the FIA's safety and medical delegate to the top flight and, as head of the sport's on-track medical team, was often first on the scene at some of its worst accidents. He was rightly acclaimed for saving the lives of some of F1's biggest names, as he was for his efforts to advance the sport's safety record through three of its most notorious decades.

He was also well-known for his close relationship with Ayrton Senna, and for suggesting that the Brazilian pack in F1 and go fishing' during the black Imola weekend of 1994, and continued his work with the FIA long after his friend's untimely passing, eventually taking on the role of heading up the FIA Institute of Motor Sport Safety - a post he held until finally retiring for good in 2011.

Watkins got his introduction to F1 through Bernie Ecclestone in 1978, after the future F1 supremo attended his practice for a personal complaint. Ecclestone appointed him as the official doctor to the then teams' association FOCA, which he headed up via his role as owner of the Brabham outfit. The first race Watkins attended was the 1978 Swedish GP at Anderstorp, and he remained a regular face in an around the world championship paddock until 2004, when he officially retired from his position as safety and medical delegate.

It was in his first season in F1 that Watkins began his campaign to improve safety, having been a witness to the errors that eventually led to Roniie Petersen's death following a start-line shunt at the Italian Grand Prix. Immediately after the event, Watkins told Ecclestone that he would require better safety equipment, an anaesthetist, and both a medical car and helicopter in order to better treat the victims of serious accidents. Each of his requests was answered at the very next race, when it was also decided that the medical car - in which Watkins would become a regular passenger - would start at the back of the field and complete the opening lap in order to be quicker to the scene of any incident.

During his time as the sport's official doctor, Watkins treated - and saved - many of its biggest names. While his relationship with Senna was well-known, the likes of Mika Hakkinen, Martin Donnelly, Rubens Barrichello, Gerhard Berger, Nelson Piquet and Didier Pironi all had reason to be grateful for Watkins' presence, while the Briton was also first on the scene at other, more fateful, incidents, including those of Gilles Villeneuve, Riccardo Paletti and Roland Ratzenberger. He was elected president of the F1 medical commission in 1981.

Despite relinquishing his on-track role, Watkins continued to work closely with the heads of international motorsport, including then FIA president Max Mosley and race director Charlie Whiting, to improve safety standards, leaving Senna as the last driver to die at the wheel of an F1 car. Away from the circuit, he continued in private pracetice for many years, before founding the Brain and Spine Foundation in 1992.

Among the recognition Watkins attracted for his contribution to the sport were the FIA Academy Gold Medal for Motor Sport (2011), the Mario Andretti Award for Medical Excellence (1996) and special award for 'Most Outstanding Contribution to the Motorsport Industry' (2008). He was also made a member of the Order of the British Empire in 2002, while the University of Liverpool presented him with an honorary doctorate in 2004.

Tributes naturally poured in when news of Watkins' death was announced late on Wednesday (12 September), with many of the drivers he saved - and others grateful that the safety advances he pioneered meant that they have never required his attention - remarking on his passing. McLaren Group boss Ron Dennis, however, summed up their feelings in a brief statement.

"Today, the world of motor racing lost one of it's true greats," he claimed, "No, he wasn't a driver. No, he wasn't an engineer. No, he wasn't a designer. He was a doctor and it's probably fair to say that he did more than anyone, over many years, to make F1 as safe as it is today. Many drivers and ex-drivers owe their lives to his careful and expert work, which resulted in the massive advances in safety levels that today's drivers possibly take for granted."

Crash Media Group sends its condolences to Watkins' family and friends.

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Professor Sid Watkins picks up his award from the MIA which recognises his huge contribution to safety in motorsport [Pic credit: MIA]
24.06.2006 Montreal, Canada,  Professor Sid Watkins (GBR) Ex-FIA Medical Delegate - Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 9, Canadian Grand Prix, Saturday
Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn and Sid Watkins
Prof Sid Watkins talks with Herbie Blash
Professor Sid Watkins and Dr Jacques Tropenat with the medical acr at the 2004 French Grand Prix
The rescue crew, led by famed Formula 1 medic Sid Watkins, tend to Takuma Sato following his horrific accident at the Austrian GP. Incredibly, the Japanese driver was perfectly OK
Prof Sid Watkins at Spa Francorchamps
Professor Sid Watkins [FIA Medical delegate and Patron of the Brain and Spine Foundation] at the Grand Prix Party 2002
11.06.2017- Race, The Safety Car leads the group
11.06.2017-  Jean Todt (FRA) Fia President and Chase Carey (US), Liberty Media
11.06.2017- Race, F1 family photo with Jean Todt (FRA) Fia President, Chase Carey (US), Liberty Media and Sean Bratches (US), Liberty Media
11.06.2017- Race, F1 family photo with Jean Todt (FRA) Fia President, Chase Carey (US), Liberty Media and Sean Bratches (US), Liberty Media
28.05.2017 - Race, Sebastian Vettel (GER) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H, Jean Todt (FRA), President FIA, Chase Carey (USA) Formula One Group Chairman, Charlene Wittstock Princess of Monaco and S.A.S. Prince Albert II
28.05.2017 - Race, Charlie Whiting (GBR), Race director and safety delegate
28.05.2017 - Race, Jean Todt (FRA), President FIA
28.05.2017 - Race, The drives observe the national anthem, Jean Todt (FRA), President FIA, Chase Carey (USA) Formula One Group Chairman, Charlene Wittstock Princess of Monaco and S.A.S. Prince Albert II
28.05.2017 - Race, The Safety car and Sebastian Vettel (GER) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H
28.05.2017 - Jean Todt (FRA), President FIA

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Liam48 - Unregistered

September 12, 2012 11:10 PM

This is such a sad day for not just Formula 1 but for Motorsport in general. Professor Sid Watkins has been an absolute hero and a great asset to Formula 1 and done so much for driver safety. Formula 1 wouldn't have been the same without him. Now it's time for him to join his friend Ayrton Senns to finally go fishing in the sky. R.I.P. Professor Sid Watkins gone but never forgotten.


September 12, 2012 11:10 PM

What a shame, a wonderful man. He once said the most satisfying moment of his career was twice starting Mika Hakkinen's heart and performing a cricothyroidotomy at the side of the track at Australia '95. Cheers Sid, thanks for everything you did, you made F1 a better place.

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