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A great man bows out of motorsport
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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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.


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


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!


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


“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.


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!


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


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.


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.


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


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.


Top bloke 🙂

Adrian Newey Jnr

Thankyou Prof.


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.


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. 🙂


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 😉


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 !!!!


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!


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


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?


All the best to Prof Sid.

Now he has time to start an F1 forum….


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.

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