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A great man bows out of motorsport
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A great man bows out of motorsport
Posted By: James Allen  |  08 Dec 2011   |  1:55 pm GMT  |  75 comments

Professor Sid Watkins has retired as president of the FIA Institute bringing down the curtain on his professional involvement in motor sport.

Watkins served for over 25 years as the F1 Medical Delegate, staring in 1978. He has saved many lives in many ways, wither through helping to make the cars and circuits safer or more directly, such as when he saved Mika Hakkinen’s life trackside after a heavy accident in Adelaide in 1995.

He will take up an honorary role with the organisation, but the presidency will now pass to Professor Gerard Saillant, who is a close ally of FIA President Jean Todt and who looked after Michael Schumacher’s rehabilitation form injury in 1999.


Watkins is a legendary figure in F1, having been brought in by Bernie Ecclestone to improve medical facilities at race tracks, he became more centrally involved in improving safety, working with the FIA on regulations to minimise the dangers to drivers from high speed accidents.

A close personal friend of Ayrton Senna, it is a tribute to Watkins that F1 has not lost a driver since the great Brazilian died in 1994. Watkins’s role in F1 is immortalised in the documentary film Senna.

Watkins became the first president of the FIA Institute when it was founded in 2004. It’s work, on the safety and sustainability of the sport, is funded by a grant from the FIA Foundation.

“There will always be accidents in motorsport, “says Watkins, ” But we have worked for many years to minimise the consequences. We research all areas of driver safety, from helmets and overalls to cockpit protection and collision prevention. F1 in particular has become much safer over the past 20 years.

That it has done so is largely the work of Watkins.

Professor Gérard Saillant said: “I have learnt a great deal from working with Professor Watkins and I now look forward to progressing his work as the new President of the FIA Institute. We have made great strides in motor sport safety and sustainability but there is always more to do and I am as committed as ever to ensuring these important developments continue.”

Leave your thoughts and memories of Sid Watkins in the comments section below.

* A big thank you to all JA on F1 readers for all the great comments and points of view – in the last 24 hours we’ve had over 420 comments on the SKY TV and the FIA rule change stories. The season may be over but everyone is still very engaged!

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75 Comments
  1. Rob Newman says:

    I am just wondering … was that him who almost got hit by Nick Heidfeld in Brazil 2002?

  2. Brandon Johnston says:

    I met Pr. Watkins at Monaco in 1998, and he was kind enough to sign my program. Strangely, as he was signing, I kept looking at his hands thinking those were the hands that tried to save Senna. But I felt it a true honor to meet and speak with him. My very best wishes to Pr. Watkins.

  3. Andrew Carter says:

    A Great man who F1 owes a lot to, may he enjoy his retirement.

    1. Phil says:

      They should start on F1 hall of fame and Watkins should be the first inductee

    2. Wayne says:

      Enjoy your days by the lakeside, Pr. Watkins. They are the most hard earnt in all of F1 history.

  4. Steve D says:

    A real gentleman of the sport and who has been on the scene to deal with some of the most horrendous of moments throughout the sports steep safety improvements.

    I think his work is worthy of a documentary in itself if he ever feels the need one day.

    Now is a good time to say thanks for all the hard work and hopefully he’ll enjoy a nice bit of time off now!

    NB: to James, not sure where else to put this Q, but as the fans are talking post season, would you ever consider opening an actual forum on this site for people to discuss the F1 issues of the day? Seems you have a good community of people here, and it would be good to talk more with them on F1 in depth…..

    1. James Allen says:

      This format works well and we have healthy debate.

      1. Phil says:

        Agree with James. The last thing this site needs is an open forum. They tend to just degenerate into a breeding ground for Trolls, WUMs and repetitive arguments. As things stand, this site is pleasantly free of those things and I think it’s the article comment format which keeps it that way.

        Plus, I’d much rather James spent his time writing insightful articles than moderating a forum.

  5. Kam says:

    Should be knighted! Sir…

    1. Simon Lord says:

      Hear, hear. A man who has given much not only to sport but to mankind itself.

    2. Duncan Snowden says:

      Can’t argue with that. And the forthcoming New Year Honours would be the perfect time. F1 wouldn’t be what it is without the Prof.

    3. RickeeBoy says:

      Here Here – He’s done more for the Sport than we’ll ever realise. Should have been Sir Sid years ago.

  6. Neal says:

    Farewell Sid. I was very moved at the prolonged standing ovation us fans gave him at your Senna screening in London.

    It was very interesting that despite all the other legends there (including you of course, James!) the reception he was given stood out. I think it shows the complete depth of knowledge a bunch of fans have about the history of the sport, and the feeling towards the guys that have made a positive difference.

    1. James Allen says:

      Yes, he was great that night. He’s always great. I did a BAFTA screening recently with him and the film makers and the audience of BAFTA members was eating out of his hand. They’d never heard of him before walking into the cinema that night

      1. Martin P says:

        Any chance you could convince him to do the talk circuit? A one-man show, or even better half a dozen nights of talk plus Q&A hosted by yourself would be excellent.

        Failing that… get the biography out!

  7. Paul H says:

    Very much an unsung hero of the sport, in particular the driver mortality rate. Can only think of a single time i’ve seen him speaking it struck me how pragmatic he seemed – not wishing to take away the danger but merely manage it and minimise it. His legacy of driver safety is one of the most impressive features of f1. Thanks to him and wish him a happy retirement.

  8. Lee says:

    A great man indeed, and one that has always shown passion for the sport.

    In the 25 years I’ve followed F1, I’ve never heard a single word said against him, or a single person disagree with him – and I honestly can’t think of another person in F1 that I could say that about.

  9. As important a man in modern motorsport as any driver or team owner, and the reason that the relatively few deaths today are such a massive shock.
    I can heartily recommend his books, Life at the Limit and Beyond the Limit, for a more detailed insight into his work.

    1. Pete S. says:

      I recently read Life at the Limit and was impressed. So much detail about the Sport and his involvement in making it safer. Also provided a different perspective on Bernie. Thanks to him, we had Watkins in the first place.

  10. S Quilter says:

    Hi James,
    I was very moved by Professor Sid Watkins speech about Ayerton at the screening of “Senna” at the Curzon Cinema Mayfair earlier this year. Sitting just a few seats away from the legendary Professor, and feeling the warmth and friendliness the entire room felt towards him, I felt I was in the presence of a true gentleman. His personal stories about Ayerton and their close friendship brought an intimacy to the proceedings and will never be forgotten by me.

  11. Charlie says:

    “Let’s go fishing”

    1. Pete S. says:

      If only he agreed!!

    2. gonzeche says:

      One good man. I wonder now who he will go fishing with…

  12. Red5 says:

    Fantastic man, there will be many more glowing tributes from the paddock and beyond.

  13. Mark Keatley-Palmer says:

    Without the single-mindedness of Professor Sid Watkins and the stubbornness of the likes of Jackie Stewart, F1 would have undoubtedly claimed more lives.
    Every F1 driver owes Sid a sincere debt of gratitude for all he has done to safeguard their lives and, when the need arose, ensured that they received the best treatment available.
    Happy retirement you will be missed, but your legacy will live forever.

  14. theUKdude says:

    Sad to hear he’s bowing out of F1 … He’s done so much to improve safety and saved so many lives in the process. Enjoy retirement dude!

  15. young slinger says:

    Good luck to a great man and thankyou for the lives you have saved!

  16. Mojo says:

    Prof. Watkins has written a great book, “Life at the Limit. Triumph and Tragedy in Formula 1″. A great read, lots of anecdotes and background info. ISBN 0-330-35139-7.

    1. JimmiC says:

      Agree, I read it often.

      Fantastic man. I’m sure many drivers in the past have breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing his face after a massive wreck.

    2. Trent says:

      Yes I must read that one.

      I understand it’s a little more sensitively written than the Indycar medico’s book, excerpts I have seen of that one appear to go into unnecessarily gruesome detail, particularly about the accident of Gordon Smiley.

      1. Mojo says:

        I don’t remember anything like that.

  17. Prof. Watkins has to be up there alongside the likes of Stewart, Mosley and Ecclestone for improving Formula One Safety and modernising the concept of Grand Prix racing.

    But while he’ll ever be associated with the Senna crash he was prominent in so many other incidents which may well have turned out to be fatal as well.

    The obvious ones that spring to mind are Zanardi’s ’93 Spa shunt and Didier Pironi during practice in Germany ’82.

    But I also think Watkins’ own nature should be mentioned. Ultimately the relationship he built up with competitors fostered trust on the race track (in terms of knowing that in the case of an incident they were in safe hands) but also off the track (for example being able to bridge the gap between the GPDA and the FIA to ensure safety was constantly improved).

    While it is never given second thought now, would the advances in cockpit safety, trackside facilities or even the HANS device have been so -easily accepted and implemented without him? Seriously doubtful.

  18. Joel says:

    One can only have the highest respect for the contribution that Prof. Watkins has made to our sport. This is a man with the most common sense in F1 and someone who has always known where the priorities lay.

    He so clearly loved this sport and the people participating in it and will certainly be missed.

    Thank you Sid!

    1. Wayne says:

      Enjoy yours days by the lake, rod in hand, Sid. Thank you.

  19. Richard Hyde says:

    A truly great man. An expert in his field and loved by all. Enjoy the fishing Sid…

  20. meltwaterfalls says:

    Sad to see Sid retiring, but wish him all the best for the future.

    His achievements in formula one really rank up there with the greatest drivers. Thanks to his work and leadership formula one is has improved immeasurably.

  21. Dave Aston says:

    What a legend; if any of you guys and girls haven’t read ‘Life At The Limit’, I highly recommend it. His initiatives and implementation, and the fact that Ecclestone gave him the power to do it, and deferred to him, saved a lot of talented lives. Think Burti surviving that accident at Spa, or Kubica at Canada, or Heikki in Spain, and so on.

  22. Will says:

    There are those much better placed to pay tribute to him than me but from what I know of him from my perspective as a fan, he has always seemed intelligent, thoughtful and good humoured.

    He has had a career of which he can and should be thoroughly proud.

  23. Richard Trinder says:

    A great man, Mika probably owes sid (and other trackside medics) for his quality of life (and subsiquent success) in the moments just prior to his huge shunt.

    I hope he enjoys his sunshine years. :)

  24. Sean says:

    JA, you need a like button for comments, not just articles. I agree with everyone’s sentiments.

    We should all be grateful to Sid for keeping OUR drivers safe. His legacy is immense.

  25. CD says:

    The man deserves a knighthood.

  26. Steve says:

    I think it’s about time he was upgraded to a knighthood. It’s thanks to the improved safety record that F1 is still able to attract big sponsors.

  27. veeru says:

    Good bye, Dr. Sid

  28. Dmitry says:

    Wow, F1 will be a sadder place without him, but he is leaving a heritage so huge, he will be in F1 forever, and it doesn’t matter where will it be – in safety technologies, people or just in the hearts of many.

    He can be admired for many deeds, but my personal feeling to him grows from Mika’s incident. Mika is the first driver I was a fan of (and will always remain), so may be it’s just my gratitude to Sid for saving him, but I feel like I owe him something.

    I suspect he won’t read this, but I am sure he knows, that many (MANY) F1 followers can surely say him: “Thank you”.

  29. Werewolf says:

    The word ‘great’ is much over used but in this case actually seems inadequate. From the lives of so many drivers to the massive modern success of a sport that could otherwise have become unsustainable in a world of increased political correctness, we owe a phenomenal debt to Prof. Sid Watkins.

    Speaking as a UK citizen, the fact that he does not have a knighthood is utterly deplorable.

  30. Adelaide says:

    He was one of the people who made sure that the deaths of Ratzenberger and Senna were not in vain – improved safety ensued. His late friend Ayrton would have approved.

  31. FA says:

    Had the pleasure of a long chat with the Prof in the mid-1990s on a bus from Nice airport to Monaco. Truly a wonderful, charming man and when we reached our destination, he thanked ME for talking to him! Wishing him all the very best for the future.

  32. Dan Orsino says:

    All the best to Prof Sid.
    Now he has time to start an F1 forum….

  33. Gordon says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but he’s not been knighted/given an OBE etc? That’s ridiculous, when they’re handed out like sweeties to sportsmen.

    How do you start a campaign to have someone knighted?

  34. dan b says:

    outstanding individual in the field of F1, a well deserved rest, but what a legacy to leave behind. Thank you, what a great man.

  35. Gizmo says:

    For many decades, the idea of getting out while still alive was a real concern with drivers. Nowadays we don’t think about that aspect as much and it is due to efforts from people like Professor Watkins.

    His work to protect and save our heroes has been very much appreciated and should be celebrated.

    God speed sir and thank you!

  36. Ray Brooks says:

    This is truly the end of an era. Huge thank you Proff for keeping our heros safe and sound. Have a very happy, long retirement and do trust we will still see you around the circuits of the world !!!!

  37. Kieran says:

    Having a doctor for a father, I have a huge amount of respect for any in the medical profession and especially those who make such a difference to life directly and indirectly.

    Lets not forget this man may have saved many hundreds, even thousands, of lives. After all, the trickle down of safety features from an F1 car have led to last decades greatest improvements for road driving safety.

    So bloody well done, Professor, and enjoy the sunshine years of your retirement. Who cares about the Queen or the honours roll when the readers of JA on F1 (and James would join us I hope) have decided to dub thee ‘Sir Sid’

    Your medal is in the post ;-)

  38. Kester says:

    Sid, I just found out about your retiring. I’d like to thank you for making F1 safer, for doing your best to save Senna and generally being a right, proper gentleman too.

    May you enjoy your well deserved retirement Sid, thank you. :)

  39. Adam Taylor says:

    Sid has done many great things for our sport. He may have left his presidency and worked at his last grand prix, but I remember standing next to him before the start of his last British Grand Prix this year and having a chat with him and his co worker who was kind enough to show me around their car (the fastest fire vehicle in the world)

    Fortunately as I understand it he will still be working at Silverstone on the smaller events so it will still be a joy to see and speak to him.

  40. Adrian Newey Jnr says:

    Thankyou Prof.

  41. Darren says:

    Top bloke :-)

  42. FordGT40 says:

    I hope he enjoys his well earned retirement.

    His legacy will be long remembered.

    While Sid is well known to F1 fans, I’d like send my thanks to all those on his team who we will never know the name of but whose work makes F1 better. In medicine it is always the surgeon who gets the glory, but they never do it alone.

    While passing out thank-you’s, thanks to the marshalls, and other people I will never meet who helped put on a great 2011 season of F1 that I very much enjoyed watching.

  43. Douglas says:

    James – re your last paragraph – it’s only a hundred days or so until the next race…that’s going to flash by and we will all still be very much engaged until then.

    Your site is going to be very popular next year if everyone doesn’t get the Sky package to watch the first few races – this site is an important hub to a lot of folks.

    1. Kimster says:

      Today (friday) is exactly 100 days till racesunday.

      “Watkins served for over 25 years as the F1 Medical Delegate, staring in 1978″
      It’s starting, not staring

  44. AC says:

    Good luck to him. He really deserves some quiet time.

    When you think about his role, he must have had the highest burden of any one in F1. All these young drivers under his care, his responsibility. And he has to live with everything what went wrong, to put it delicately. A normal man cant do that. Normal men would crack. This man is genuinely extraordinary and deserves the highest of honours.

  45. JohnBt says:

    The name Sid Watkins rings loud since F1 began. A well deserved retirement. Wow, Sid looks very healthy from the photo above.

  46. Schumerak says:

    Enjoy your retirement Sid, – Thanks for making F1 safer than ever before…

    …James – One thing I’ve always wondered is that since Prof. Watkins and Bernd Maylander are both at the front of the Grand Prix whenever the safety car comes out, whereabouts are they in the “Leading a grand prix” classifications, they must have quite a few km in this category…!

    Thanks! Great site!

  47. Chapor says:

    “The most important things are the hardest things to say because mere words diminish those thoughts that seemed limitless down to only living size once they are brought out. ” Stephen King

    I think everyone can share that sentiment when trying to express their gratitude for Pr. Watkins and what he has given to F1.

    Sad to see you go. Enjoy your retirement.

  48. monktonnik says:

    One of the good guys.

    I remember reading in Richard Hammond’s biography that he also offered guidance and support after the jet car crash.

  49. R3D says:

    Best wishes Pro. Watkins and many thanks!

    on an unrelated note:

    @OfficialLRGP Announcement – Romain Grosjean to race alongside Kimi Räikkönen in 2012 http://www.lotusrenaultgp.com/8108-Romain-Grosjean-to-race-alongside.html #F1 #Grosjean

  50. Al says:

    Very sad news to see Sid go, a legend of the sport, so many owe him so much.

    A Knighthood is more than deserved, but it is an honour that has been sadly ruined by Blair and Brown with their politically motivated choices, many of whom featured in the Honours Scandal.

    Worrying to see a Frenchman getting the job, is he really the best man for it, or is it another post Todt is filling with one of his countrymen on Nationalistic grounds ? There have been a lot of French mysteriously appointed to roles there since JT got in.

  51. Phil says:

    I thought he’d already retired several years ago and then I realised why I thought that. Its because never a race went by without Murray Walker mentioning Professor Syd Watkins! Of course, when Murray went he wasnt mentioned as much.

  52. Bob says:

    Without doubt Sid Watkins has made a massive contribution to F1 but I always thought it was one of the Adelaide track doctors who did the tracheotomy that saved Mika Hakkinen’s life in 1995 rather than the Prof.

  53. Don Farrell says:

    I read Sid Watkings book a few years ago – what a great guy. Sid Watkin’s is one of the most influential figures in the world of F1 and he will be dearly missed by all. Enjoy your long overdue retirement Prof Sid!

  54. jago thorn says:

    An amazing man and if you haven’t read his bio it is essentail reading.

  55. David Ryan says:

    A true gentleman, and one to whom many owe their continued health and in some cases lives. He has transformed the sport beyond recognition in terms of safety and medical support, and he leaves a very big pair of shoes to fill indeed. Enjoy your retirement Professor, and thank you for all you have done.

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