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The great Prof Watkins passes away
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Posted By: James Allen  |  12 Sep 2012   |  11:35 pm GMT  |  114 comments

One of F1′s greatest figures has died this evening; Prof Sid Watkins, who was 84, passed away in a hospital in London.

The neurosurgeon from Liverpool, who was brought into F1 by Bernie Ecclestone to improve safety and medical standards, did more than anyone else in that field, getting F1 to the stage where it is today: a highly dangerous sport where accidents are survivable.

Prof Watkins was for 26 years the FIA medical delegate and introduced correct extraction techniques for getting drivers out of cars after accidents, led moves to improve crash structures and other safety measures and saved the lives of many well known F1 names. He attended to serious accidents for Gerhard Berger, Martin Donnelly, Nigel Mansell and Mika Hakkinen among others as well as the fatal accidents of Gilles Villeneuve and Ayrton Senna, who was a close personal friend.

The Prof features prominently in the documentary film “Senna”, released last year. He appeared late last year along with the film makers on the panel which met with BAFTA voters and had a major hand in the film winning the 2011 BAFTA for best documentary.

But he also saved less well known people. In the early 1990s, I was on a long haul flight back from a Grand Prix when a man unconnected with racing collapsed in the downstairs deck of a BA 747. A group of us went in search of the Prof, finding him upstairs on the Business Class deck. Sid woke up immediately, came downstairs and performed a tracheotomy on the man, saving his life.

He began work in F1 in 1978, with the death of Ronnie Peterson one of the first tragedies he encountered which made him push for better medical facilities.

The 2000s were the first decade of the sport where not a single F1 driver died and the Prof had a big hand in that.

Watkins founded the Brain and Spine Foundation and was the first president of the FIA Foundation, which is dedicated to research in motorsport safety.

Since news of his death broke, tributes from the F1 community have poured in for the Prof with McLaren chairman Ron Dennis saying: “Today the world of motor racing lost one of its true greats: Professor Sid Watkins.

“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 that he did more than anyone, over many years, to make Formula 1 as safe as it is today.

“As such, 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.

“But, more than that, Sid was a dear friend of mine, and I’ll miss him bitterly. To his widow Susan, and to his family, I extend my sincerest condolences. He was a truly great man, and the world of motor racing simply won’t be the same without him.

Jenson Button tweeted: “Rest in Peace Sid Watkins…Motorsport wouldn’t be what it is today without u. Thank you for all you’ve done, we as drivers are so grateful,” as did Rubens Barrichello who wrote: “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 drivers. RIP.”

Martin Brundle also paid his own personal tribute: “Motor sport has lost a true visionary +character with death of Prof Sid Watkins, 84. Great man, funny too.Saved my left foot being amputated.”

The FIA has also issued an official statement with its president Jean Todt hailing the legacy Watkins leaves behind. “This is a truly sad day for the FIA family and the entire motor sport community. Sid was loved and respected in equal measure by all those who knew and worked with him. We will always be grateful for the safety legacy that he has left our sport.”

Gérard Saillant, FIA Institute President, added: “Sid was a true gentleman of our sport and always a pleasure to work with. He will be sorely missed by everyone who knew him, from doctors and drivers to officials and fans. Sid’s influence will live on for many years to come.”

Anyone wishing to learn more about the life of the Prof should read “Life at the Limit: Triumph and Tragedy in Formula One.”

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114 Comments
  1. Steve says:

    This is incredibly sad, The ‘Prof’ was a legend and for all the wonderful work and lives he’s saved over the years, he should have been made Sir Sid Watkins a long time ago.

    I hope he’s up there now, off on a fishing trip with Ayrton.

    RIP Sid and thank you.

    1. Jon James says:

      Massive +1

    2. Sean says:

      I completely agree. Out of the list of people that have been awarded knighthoods over the last decades Sid Watkins deserves more. When you read about a celebrity who attains this award for services to entertainment, why has Professor Watkins constantly been overlooked?This in despite of the fact that he has saved lives on the track and made sure that motor racing driving at these tracks have become much safer. Iḿ sorry but as much as I have the utmost respect for Bruce Forsyth for his entertainment value does not Sid Watkins achievements deserve the same acclaim in equal measure?

  2. Esplanadist says:

    He was interviewed by DC on a grid walk somewhere only a few weeks ago. Looked in very good health.
    Sad news.

  3. Irish con says:

    R.I.P Sid. I’m only 23 so missed most of his best work but I have a lot of respect for the man.

  4. Steve Towner says:

    Sad to hear about the passing of Professor Sid Watkins. Had the pleasure to meet him once at Silverstone. A true lifesaver

  5. Ahmed says:

    Sad news. Rest in Peace. I had the privillege of meeting him and sitting a couple of seats away from him at the Senna screening that you arranged in London last summer. He was a lovely man.

  6. John Z says:

    Watkins’s passing is a tremendous loss for F1 and all forms of motor racing. He was a champion for increased driver safety. His conversation with Senna at Imola in 1994 is forever haunting. One could only wish Ayrton would have taken him up on that offer to go fishing. Rest in peace, Professor.

  7. Simple says:

    A sad loss. May he rest in peace.

  8. Allan says:

    A live very well lived in the service of others. He will be missed.

  9. phil says:

    Very sad news. Thoughts are with his family.

    If there is ever a Formula 1 Hall of Fame, this man should be the first inductee. What a great service he has provided to the sport.

  10. Trent says:

    Sad to hear it – a true loss

  11. Dave says:

    Hi James,

    Can you confirm the source of this story?

    It seems to have snowballed on Twitter, yet there is no statement from the family that I can see, nor have the BBC/Sky/Autosport reported it yet.

    1. James Allen says:

      I was informed at 7-30pm

  12. Doug says:

    Thank you James.

    That was a fitting tribute to a great man.

    He’ll be missed but not forgotten.

    My thoughts go out to his family.

  13. Adam Redman says:

    RIP Prof.

    You made such a difference, a true pioneer.

    The book mentioned in the article is a fascinating read, strongly recommend it.

  14. SoLiDG says:

    A very very sad day for motorsports.
    He gave so much and did some amazing things.
    Major respect for what he has done for all the drivers in the world.

    May he find his peace.

  15. Il Drago Rosso says:

    Deeply saddened by this news. Whenever people think of the F1 greats, Sid needs to be remembered, and revered. He is perhaps the greatest legend in Formula One history. The number of lives he has saved in motorsport is beyond calculable. He is the sort of doctor I could only ever hope to become. We lost a man of true character and kindness today, but our loss is Heavens gain. I hope he’s sitting on the edge of a riverbank with Ayrton enjoying their long over due fishing session. RIP Sid. You may have gone but you’ll never be forgotten.

  16. Paul H says:

    Very sad loss to the sport. RIP and thank you for playing such a massive part in making the sport as safe as it is today. Condolences to family and friends.

  17. Michael says:

    The man cannot be thanked enough for what he has for safety in the sport and for all those drivers whose lives he touched (and saved) in some way. RIP.

  18. Julian Levy says:

    Today we have lost a great hero of Motorsport who has saved more life’s than we may ever know. I’d like to think that he’s now heading out with Ayrton for that fishing trip.

    RIP Sid, thanks for everything you did

  19. Kris says:

    A great loss to F1, a great loss to mankind. RIP Sid, you’ll be sorely missed. A legend.

  20. hero_was_senna says:

    God Bless you kind sir, may you rest in peace.
    I hope you and Ayrton finally find that fishing lake you always promised yourselves.

  21. Ihsan says:

    May you rest in peace Professor.

  22. AmandaG says:

    RIP to the Prof.

    Read the book. Amazing man. He was a true F1 hero.

  23. yellowbelly says:

    What a great shame. Modern F1 is greatly indebted to him. It was only a few GP meetings ago that the Sky F1 team, including Martin Brundle who’s leg he saved, had a brief nostalgic chat with him.

    RIP Professor Sid Watkins

  24. Sam Duncombe says:

    Rest in peace Professor Sid Watkins. Legend.

    Time to go fishing with Ayrton.

  25. f1kings says:

    the lost of prof watkins is a lost for all racing but for formula one there is know words to say how miss he will be. the importance of his work is a gift to all who have race and to those to come. my sincere condolence to his family and friends he will be miss….

  26. aditya-now says:

    R.I.P. Doctor Watkins – thanks for all you have done!

  27. knoxploration says:

    Sad news indeed. Condolences to all of Professor Watkins’ family, friends, and colleagues.

  28. Ryan says:

    What a great man.

    Thank you Prof.

  29. Racyboy says:

    How many drivers owe their lives to this man?
    The mind boggles, certainly every F1 driver who’s raced since the mid ’90′s….plus all of the regular folks he treated.
    Names like Hakkinen, Kubica and Webber spring to mind, but just about every driver out their has had a big hit during their career.
    It would be nice to see something from the drivers here…Is there still a GPDA? (you don’t here it mentioned much anymore).

    Maybe the six World Champions on the grid could organise a whip around to have a statue of the Professor erected at Silverstone.
    A simple thankyou.
    R.I.P.

  30. jimi c says:

    ”well.. during my stewardship, i didn’t lose a driver that we could have saved lets put it that way. and therefore i felt satisfied that i was doing all i could to prevent the tragedies..”

    RIP PROF

    great great man. a pioneer.

    http://www.talksport.co.uk/radio/richard-keys-and-andy-gray/blog/2011-06-02/professor-sid-watkins-death-ayrton-senna

  31. Thomas, Canada says:

    A sad day. His legacy is immense. F1 and many of its drivers owe this man everything. May he be remembered forever.

  32. Chris Horton says:

    Very sad news. Thanks for all your efforts Sid, countless lives have been saved and your legacy will continue.RIP.

  33. David says:

    Everyone has to go, and 84 is a ripe old age. So I won’t claim it’s terrible that he’s died. It’s natural.

    But when people say, “a life well-lived,” his is the sort that’s meant. His work made an enormous difference–to F1 and through spin-off adaptations elsewhere, to many other forms of motorsport. And in performing his work, he had to suffer through many events that we’d rightly call traumatic. A fine human being.

  34. Ani Iyer says:

    RIP Prof Watkins. Really saddened to hear your passing

  35. Owen Williams says:

    So sad to hear about the passing of Prof Sid Watkins, what a lovely and genuine man. I think he should have been knighted as all his hard work also improved road safety as well as F1. As James says, his book ‘Beyond the Limit’ is a great read and insight into his work.

  36. David Morton says:

    Great respect for Sid Watkins and all he did for F1.
    Between Sid and Jackie Stewart, the two people who did an enormous amount to increase safety in our sport.
    RIP Sid.

  37. R.I.P. the Professor. A truly great man. The whole racing community owes him a huge debt of gratitude for the amazing work and his many accomplishments.

  38. Maximo Perez says:

    Prof Watkins was a great man and a true gentleman, this is a sad day for all of us who follow F1 as his work and dedication to the sport made it a much better and safer place.
    Rest in peace Prof. Watkins

  39. JSHT says:

    A truly great man who will be sorely missed. A great tragedy is the fact that the majority of the general public would not realise that the Prof had some hand in improvements in safety in not just racing cars but also road cars. RIP

  40. Dr.Dave says:

    R.I.P. Professor Sid. Your book inspired me when I was a resident and I had always hoped I would have the chance to meet you. Motorsport and Medicine are at a loss today.

  41. R3D says:

    My condolences to the Professor’s family. Thank you for helping F1 safer today.

  42. criscles says:

    A man who has left an indelible mark on the sport. Had the good fortune to meet him in Adelaide in the mid 90′s.

  43. Mike from Colombia says:

    Such sad news. I met him a couple of times and he was an absolutely charming gentleman with a great sense of humour.

    At this very moment I am looking at an Alain Prost photo that was signed by him and Prost at Silverstone 1999 – the day that Schmacher broke his leg. Sid signed “Good Old Proff” and I remember that he told me that he did this because Jody Scheckter used to misspell his name.

    He wrote a great book on his time in F1 and his account of 1 May 1994 is one of the most memorable that I have read.

    RIP Sid….you are a true legend.

  44. Momo says:

    Read his book when I was still only about 13 at school, and have been meaning for a long time to read it again. A must read for any self-respecting F1 fan.
    A truly great man. Rest in peace.

  45. Remarkable man. He will be sorely missed.

  46. Barry says:

    Currently Reading Life At The Limit. Such a tragedy, what Sid has done for F1 will forever be remembered. RIP.

  47. Simon Donald says:

    As a fellow doctor and a massive fan of Formula One, Sid Watkins in one of my heroes. What he was able to achieve in Formula One in improving safety as you outline in your article has been fantastic. For drivers to be able to survive horrendous accidents such as Kubica’s in Canada and Webber’s at Valencia to name but two is a real pointer to his achievements. Look at the differing outcomes of Karl Wendlinger’s crash at the chicane in Monaco in 1994 with that of Jenson Button’s and Sergio Perez’s at the same spot more recently and you can see the progress we have made and that Prof. Watkins had a major hand in. Rest in Peace Prof. and thank you.

  48. Tim says:

    From lights to flag – a good man who lived a good life.
    Vale.
    R.I.P.

    Tim

  49. Sebee says:

    If there was such a thing as an F1 State funeral, here is a man who deserves one.

    Hopefully a tribute by all team drivers and cars is coming up next weekend.

  50. Adrian Newey Jnr says:

    RIP. I hope he has finally gone fishing with Ayrton.

  51. Liam in Sydney says:

    An absolute tragedy he is not with us anymore. A great man. God rest your soul, Sid.

  52. Oliver Hambidge says:

    Terribly sad news.

    Perhaps he’s up there having that long overdue fishing trip with Ayrton that he talked about…

  53. Chris G says:

    Wonderful man,
    terrible news.

  54. Rohit says:

    Well RIP prof walkins :(
    A true gentleman with loads of calmness – remember him once stating the fact that F1 drivers have no
    Brains while driving in a funny tone
    Will be missed

  55. Louis says:

    So sad to hear that….

    James, do you know if prof Watkins was still actively involved in F1 before he passed away?

    i’ve been wondering if prof Watkins had left F1 since i rarely heard of him being mentioned in F1 publications in the last few years.

    thanks

    1. James Allen says:

      He stepped back from FIA Institute at end of last year

  56. Kay says:

    We’ve lost a great man in F1. Though he’ll once again meet up with Senna up in the heavens.

    R.I.P.

  57. Stone the crows says:

    RIP Dr. Watkins, you did a lot of good for my favorite sport and many drivers are alive today because of your courage and determination.

  58. assad says:

    Rest in peace professor, Allah bless you and yours for the blessings your hands and thoughts have given to others

  59. kfzmeister says:

    Sad news, indeed. I read his book, based upon a recommendation from a friend, who once showed me a picture of You, James, Sid and him. He was in a wheel chair and i believe it was in Montreal.
    Great book, great man for F1. Fishing with Ayrton, finally.

  60. Rio Pangia says:

    So long Dr. Watkins. Thank you for your immense contribution.

  61. Ram says:

    a person outside the race track whoes contribution to motor sport is priceless …

  62. Masood says:

    R.I.P sir. Absolutely legend of motorsport

  63. Nick says:

    Rest in peace Sid, a truly legendary figure in F1 history and a gentleman as well.

  64. Tank says:

    A hero. thank you Prof, for what you have done in your life.

  65. Paul Lumley says:

    He was a great man – RIP, Prof Watkins.

  66. Gerard says:

    The passing of this brilliant and courageous man Prof Sid Watkins is a sad day for many people, the Prof was a fantastic roll model and has inspired many people to be involved in the medical industry.
    His work in the motor racing faternity towards creating a safer sport is highly recognized in returning drivers safely from what would have been terminal incidents.
    I recall his words to Ayrton Senna the day prior his demise at Imola about their love of fishing and that Ayrton should just stop and go fishing with him.
    Lessons learnt from the professor in safety and his work creating an amazing paddock hospital in F1 will be the benchmark for future generations of the sport.
    Thankyou Prof you will be long remembered and sadly missed.

  67. Krishna says:

    Very sad to hear of his passing. I’ve appreciated all that he has done for F1 and motorsports in general with regards to driver safety. RIP Professor Watkins.

  68. Sam says:

    RIP Professor Watkins.

    One of Formula 1′s true heros!

  69. Sean says:

    Sad news. He will always be remembered by Formula 1 fans the world over.

  70. Davexxx says:

    WOW, RIP Sid! I remember him most from Senna’s crash, but even though, as a mere fan, I am ‘distant’ from the F1 community, I still felt his importance, and significance. What a GREAT man!

  71. Wayne says:

    God speed Prof Sid Watkins. You were a part of F1 for every one of the 20 years I have been a fan. Drivers, Teams and fans rested easier knowing you were always around in the background ready to beat the odds and keep our stars shining bright on the race track.

    Rest well.

    Hero.

  72. richard piers says:

    Huge praise is due to the Prof for all that he has done for F1.
    It should also be remembered how Jackie Stewart started everything moving against considerable opposition from many people even drivers.

  73. Enzo says:

    Some memories from your early childhood you’ll never forget, like watching an Ali fight with my father in the middle of the night, Doctor Sid Watkins is one of those memories.

    I remember, still a little boy, after watching a horrible crash, i was waiting to hear his name, and then turning around to look at my father as if i wanted to say :”he’s going to be all right now, isn’t he?”

    Resta in pace Doctor Watkins

  74. Adelaide says:

    RIP Prof

  75. Paul Mc says:

    RIP Sid Watkins. A true gentleman whose tireless efforts have saved countless lives on the racing track. So sad that he has passed away.

    F1 needs to honor this great man.

  76. S2K says:

    This is very sad news. Rest In Peace Professor!

  77. Mark says:

    What a life he lead. One of the few truly great men, not just in motorsport, but sport in general.

    A very sad day indeed.

    1. James Allen says:

      And life in general. Don’t forget he worked for the public from Monday to Friday, he worked for F1 at the weekends.

  78. Truth or Lies says:

    Rest in Peace – Sid Watkins

    So many owe you so much.

  79. hal says:

    Rest In Peace. A wonderful man.

  80. AndyC_F1 says:

    what more can you say about the man that hasn’t been said.

    I guess we all hope that when get to the end of life we’d have made an actual difference.

    He certainly saved directly and indirectly many lives over his time. And did so with the absolute respect of all of those he worked with.

    His legacy is the great improvements of on track medical support. Great man.

  81. Dave says:

    Very sad to hear this news. I rarely shed a tear on hearing the passing of someone I never knew or never met but I did this morning.

    He made F1 what it is today – incredibly safe. I fear we would have lost more drivers since Senna if it had not been for the efforts of a truly great man now gone but not forgotten. R.I.P. Prof ;)

  82. David Cotton says:

    Sid directly changed my life in the 1990s. He was a great man. Without him I would not be the person I am today.

    I was no-one of any great importance, an ordinary young lad, but he took the time and effort to help me. He was an incredibly modest man, and it was months before I even realised he was involved with F1.

    I hope there are some good fishing rods in heaven, and that the salmon are running.

    God bless you, Sid.

  83. This fantastic guy should have been knighted, not just for F1 but for all he did in his ‘day job’ he must have known his time was short, and it looked like he made the vallient effort of attending what would be his last F1 GP, how fitting it was at Silverstone.

  84. veeru says:

    what was your experience with him james?

  85. db4tim says:

    Vaya con Dios

  86. AussieRod says:

    RIP Sid.

  87. Sad in a sense, but also not sad at all, insofar as Sid had a long life, many amazing experiences and changed the lives of so many for the better. A true one off, and we’re all richer for him having been around.

    RIP

  88. DonSimón says:

    Is it too much to ask to have a corner named after him? Possibly The Loop leading into Aintree at Silverstone? Or even Farm Curve? Watkins Curve would be a fitting tribute!

    1. VicWeir says:

      +1
      Think it would have appealed to his sense of humour too!

  89. Scott D says:

    A very sad day indeed. Thoroughly enjoyed his autobiography and he came across as a very genuine and dedicated chap who will be greatly missed. My sincere condolences to his family and friends.

  90. Marco says:

    A true mark of a Legend when so many ordinary racing fans recognise his behind the scenes contribution to the sport.
    Prof Watkins RIP

  91. Kenji says:

    Really sad to hear the passing of Prof. Watkins. With his pioneering work to improve F1 safety, he has left a very big hole which i feel wont’t get filled anytime soon. Thank you for all that you have done, you will be greatly missed.

    1. David Cotton says:

      He once told me (with some understandable pride) about his efforts to stop drivers agitating broken backs. From memory, initially it was boards that could be slid down the back and under the legs, then joined, to lift the driver out. Later fully removable seats.

      As James says above, F1 was just part of his job. Hundreds (thousands?) of people like myself were the other part. We are not famous, but no less thankful. He treated us all as friends.

      I will lift a glass of Glenmorangie to his memory tonight. Slainte, Sid.

  92. Kit says:

    Goodbye sir and thanks for all your contribution.

    To all motorsport fans: Each time you see a driver climbing out of the car unhurt, remember Prof Watkins…

  93. Haran says:

    A great man and a great legacy.

    RIP

  94. Neil Daniel says:

    RIP Prof.

    His book is worth a read by anyone interested in F1 or medicine, full of laughter and tears.

    Don’t forget it’s not just the drivers he made F1 safer for. Any fan that has attended a race has been safer due to the improved facilities. The medical centres deal with us too!

  95. Serrated_Edge says:

    RIP Prof Watkins.

    A remarkable man who made a massive contribution to F1.

  96. Val says:

    Really sad to read this, rest in peace, you will live in our hearts, thank you so much

  97. Stuart burton says:

    Excellent tribute James. My thoughts go to his family and friends, I read a recent article in f1 racing recently and think that he was a remarkable man who has helped make it easier to enjoy the sport we all love with a little more enjoyment knowing that the prof has helped to make it safer for all, a sad loss for formula1 and motorsport in general. RIP Sid Watkins and thank you for the safety.

  98. F12012 says:

    When there was a big accident and the commentators said Professor Sid Watkins was there, you knew the driver was in great hands

    The man saved so many drivers, he is simply a F1 Legend

    RIP Sid

  99. moxlox says:

    RIP You were a special man.

    I was sad to hear of your passing, but happy to think of the massive positive difference you made to this sport for us all.

  100. Chris G says:

    I find it slightly sad that close to 800 people commented on Hammilton’s possible move to Mercedes and yet so few commented on the loss of one of Formula 1′s true heroes.

    I think I’m getting old and cynical.

  101. Chris G says:

    ‘Hamilton’…obviously

  102. Zippyone says:

    RIP Prof Sid Watkins, was very sad at hearing the news.

    Does anyone know if he had anything to say about the Alonso near-miss, i.e. introduce closed cockpits?

  103. Jack Flash (Aust) says:

    God Bless. Rest in Peace Sid.
    A great man of Hippocratic dedication to F1, and a true gentleman. You’ll be missed by all.
    Jack Flash.

  104. monktonnik says:

    Rest in peace Prof. Watkins, and a job well done!

  105. Rishi says:

    RIP Professor Watkins and belated condolences to his family and friends. An influential figure in the fight for greater safety standards in F1.

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