Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Motorsport Community Mourns Passing of Professor Sid Watkins

Notable figures in Motorsport took to social media today to share their thoughts and express their condolences on the passing of Professor Sid Watkins, Formula One’s long time racing doctor and medical principal.

Professor Watkins was one of the most influential and well respected figures in Formula One and motor racing at large. Driven by a singular pursuit in elevating racing safety, Watkins was largely credited as the architect of modernizing incongruous safety protocols to the stringent, streamlined standards that they are today. He was also a fervent advocate for driver safety, having served on the FIA’s Safety and Medical Delegate for 26 years. He realized a longtime dream in 2004 when he founded the FIA Institute of Motorsports Safety, a proving ground with the sole purpose of revolutionizing driver safety in racing.

Sid Watkins and Ayrton Senna

“What Sid Watkins did in the way of safety in Formula One was incredible," said F1 Supremo Bernie Ecclestone in a statement from the Formula One Website. "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.”

In the paddock Watkins was known for his unwavering sense of humour. As part of the first responders in the FIA medical team, Watkins’s presence was one of comfort for many drivers.

“It was Sid Watkins that saved my life in Imola 94,” Tweeted F1 Driver Rubens Barrichello. “Great guy to be with, always happy... [Thanks] for everything you have done for us drivers.”

Dario Franchitti shared a similar sentiment. “Rest in peace prof Sid Watkins. Every driver in every type of racing round the world owes you a huge debt of gratitude.”

Racer Alex Brundle, son of former F1 Driver Martin Brundle, expressed his gratitude and regret at not having the chance to thank Watkins in person.

“I've played a lot of football with my Dad,” Tweeted Brundle. “I wouldn't have if it wasn't for a bloke I never met called Sid Watkins. Never got to thank him.”

Professor Sid Watkins shares a laugh with McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh
Doctor Gary Hartstein, Watkins’s long time protégé and current medical chief on the F1 safety team, remarked on Watkins’s penchant for humour.

“It took me a few years before I actually called him Sid,” said Hartstein. “It was at Spa, maybe 1993, and I asked him if I could.

“And he said, ‘The bums sleeping on the stairs of my hospital call me Sid, I don't see why you shouldn’t.’”

Doctor Hartstein also reflected on the instrumental role Watkins played in shaping his own decision-making in the field.

“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 realized 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!”

Bruno Senna conveyed his sympathy with a short but succinct message. “RIP Prof. Sid Watkins. Sad news for us who stay behind.”

Professor Watkins is survived by his wife Susan Watkins, their four sons and two daughters. He will be dearly missed.

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