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F1 doctor Sid Watkins remembered

19 January 2013


Professor Sid Watkins, best known for his efforts to improve safety in F1, was remembered on Friday at a memorial service at St Marylebone Parish Church in London.

The service, which began at 11.30am, was attended by around 200 people, including FIA president Jean Todt, F1 world champions, Damon Hill, Sir Jackie Stewart and Jody Scheckter, as well as F1 driver-turned-commentator, Martin Brundle, McLaren's Ron Dennis and Williams co-founder Patrick Head. No current drivers' attended, something pointed out by respected F1 journalist Joe Saward in his online blog.

Watkins passed away in September at the end of last year, 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.

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, who offered Watkins the chance to become F1's medical delegate in 1978, was one of a number of people from the F1 world that paid tribute to him after his death last September.

Speaking then, Ecclestone said: “What Sid Watkins did in the way of safety in Formula One was incredible. He gave his whole life to that cause, to make sure that it could be as safe as it possibly could be. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for his caring and commitment.

“When I invited him to join Formula One as its official doctor partway through the 1978 season, we discussed many aspects of safety and medical issues. We agreed that we needed a proper hospital at the track in the form of a fully equipped medical centre to stabilise injured drivers with immediate treatment, and a helicopter to transport them subsequently to specialist facilities, and that the helicopter pad had to be as close to that trackside hospital as possible.

“Sid carried all of those things through, and many more. After the accidents to Jochen Rindt and then Ronnie Peterson, I suggested that he should have a medical intervention car and that he should take responsibility for taking drivers into medical care.

“We always talked things through and worked together, and he then took care of all the medical things which I knew nothing about.

“I am pretty sure that he is irreplaceable. You only meet somebody of his calibre once in your lifetime.”


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