“When an F1 driver was involved in a big accident he wasn’t sure when he woke up whether he would see God or Sid Watkins. In the medical profession he was one and the same.”
With these words Peter Hamlyn, eminent neurosurgeon and professional heir to Sid Watkins, paid tribute to the man who changed not only the field of neurological medicine, but also Formula 1 and wider sports medicine, at a memorial service, held today in at the St Marylebone Church in Central London.
Sir Jackie Stewart, FIA president Jean Todt, Damon Hill and Ron Dennis were among the hundreds who braved the snowy sub-zero conditions to celebrate the life of a great man.
It is unusual for a man who has achieved so much and is so revered in his field, to also be loved as much as Sid Watkins was. His impish sense of humour was highlighted by friends and colleagues as one of the main reasons for this.
Former RAC chairman Geoffrey Rose told a peach of a story about a fussy Dean at the London Hospital, whom Watkins didn’t much like, complaining that he’d observed Sid’s new Chinese Registrar doing ward rounds “wearing a polo necked shirt and no jacket.”
“I wasn’t aware that sartorial elegance was synonymous with clinical excellence,” said Sid. “Surely it can’t be, because you’re the best dressed man I know.”
Stewart began his address by observing that he has attended many memorial services over the years, “And I would have been to a lot more if it were not for Sid,”
But it was Hamlyn who was best able to put into context the achievements of both sides of Watkins’ life. His medical career would have been enough for most people, he observed, with pioneering techniques like neurostimulation and middle brain surgery. But Watkins also wanted a second career and transformed both safety and medical standards in F1 to the point where it became a gold standard for all sports medicine. Observing that 12% of all serious head injuries treated in the UK are sports-related, this is quite a contribution.
Hamlyn revealed that he was on the medical team for the London 2012 Olympic bid and when the IOC committee visited London in 2005, prior to the award of the games, their main question was whether the medial facilities would be “to the same standard as Formula 1?”
* The FIA announced today that Dr Ian Roberts will assume responsibilities in 2013 as F1 Doctor from Gary Hartstein, who’s contract was not renewed. Roberts will oversee the local response units at Grands Prix and will report to FIA medical delegate Professor Jean-Charles Piette.