Formula 1: Grateful drivers pay tribute to lifesaver Sid Watkins
THE world of Formula 1 has paid tribute to former medical delegate Sid Watkins who died on Wednesday at the age of 84.
Watkins was the on-track surgeon for 26 years from 1978 through to 2004, with his crusade to improve medical facilities in Formula 1 helping to dramatically cut the number of deaths and serious injuries.
Watkins’ actions helped save the lives of Northern Ireland’s Martin Donnelly, Finland’s double world champion Mika Hakkinen and Austrian Gerhard Berger, among others.
McLaren Group chairman and close friend Ron Dennis said: “Today the world of motor racing lost one of its true greats.
“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 he did more than anyone, over many years, to make Formula One 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.”
Drivers and fans expressed their sadness on Twitter with Rubens Barrichello, an F1 veteran for 19 seasons, saying: “It was Sid Watkins that saved my life in Imola 94.great guy to be with,always happy...tks for everything u have done for us.”
Compatriot Bruno Senna, whose uncle and three-times world champion Ayrton was tended to by Watkins following his fatal crash at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, added: “RIP Prof. Sid Watkins. Sad news for us who stay behind.”
F1’s current medical delegate Gary Hartstein, who learned his trade for seven years under Watkins, said: “For a long time I wanted to call him every time I had to make a decision. Then I just started thinking ‘what would he do in this situation?’
“And finally, for better or for worse, I realised I was doing just what he’d do – but probably not as well. When I told him this a few years ago, he smiled and said, ‘Of course old boy! You’ve had a bloody great teacher!’ ”
Watkins worked tirelessly to improve safety in the cockpit, on the track, and the medical support at circuits alongside the likes of Britain’s triple world champion Sir Jackie Stewart and FIA president Max Mosley.
After qualifying at the Liverpool University Medical School, Watkins trained as a neurosurgeon before becoming Professor of Neurosurgery in New York where he regularly attended races at nearby Watkins Glen.
In 1970 he was appointed to the RAC medical panel and, in 1978, was approached by F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone to become an on-track surgeon at grands prix and he was also the chief medical officer for the FIA. After stepping down, Watkins focused on his role as president of the FIA Institute for Motor Sport Safety.
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