It is a sad sad day for Formula 1… long time friend, head of the Formula 1 on track medical team and first responder, Professor Sid Watkins has passed away. A regular fixture at the races for almost 30 years, the Prof’s (as he was affectionately called) absence will surely be felt by one and all. A world renowned neuro-surgeon, he was responsible for saving the lives of many a Formula 1 driver over the course of his tenure.
Beginning his long association in 1978, Watkins began the gradual process of changing attitudes and then changing the circuit medical facilities. At the time circuit medical centers were often nothing more than tents with little in the way of facilities. He was spurred on by such events as the death of Ronnie Peterson in 1979 after which Watkins began a campaign to ensure that the hospitals to which the injured were taken had the necessary facilities.
Watkins’s common sense approach and willingness to speak his mind made him a respected figure in Formula 1 circles especially after the deaths of Ayrton Senna (who he was especially close friends with) and Roland Ratzenberger in 1994 at Imola. This was when the Prof was appointed to head a new body called the Advisory Expert Group which revolutionized not only car safety but also circuit safety and systems like the HANS head and neck support. There has not been a driver fatality in Formula 1 ever since.
We are sure the Singapore Grand Prix next week will have a special dedication in his memory.
R.I.P. Prof (1928 – 2012)