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


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

Jack Flash (Aust)

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.


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?




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.


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.


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



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.


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


RIP Prof Watkins.

A remarkable man who made a massive contribution to F1.


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!


A great man and a great legacy.



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…


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.


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.


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

Prof Watkins RIP


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.


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!



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


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.



Vaya con Dios


what was your experience with him james?


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.


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.


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 😉

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