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“A man of great courage and vision”: F1 community remembers Sid Watkins
Posted By: James Allen  |  18 Jan 2013   |  6:13 pm GMT  |  25 comments

“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.

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James, apologies if I’m a bit strident on this matter, but I think it’s disgraceful that none of the drivers who he helped in their time of dire need found the time to show up.

Juxtapose the F1 drivers response to Dr. Sid Watkins Memorial with the following.

Mervyn Davies –

Wales rugby union player, also played for Lions, died 15 March 2012, aged 65.

“At his memorial service this year, we asked players from each of the home unions to attend. They all accepted and paid their own way, a fitting tribute to one of the greatest players the game has seen”.

– JJ Williams, former Wales and Lions winger



For those that haven’t, I would thoroughly recommend reading his book Life at the Limit, a truly fascinating insight to how he revolutionized safety and the battles he faced in doing do.


Absolutely, a tremendous book, it opens a window into the sport that few other writers have managed.



Great book, illuminates a vital part of motorsport.


Mika Hakkinen particularly


Hakkinen was not saved by Prof. Watkins although he was reponsible for the medical framework which saved his life. In fact two doctors from Adelaide Hospital saved Mika’s life. They were first on the scene and performed the tracheotomy on him under the Prof’s supervision.


My memory of Sid will always be when he talks about the scene at Senna’s accident, it pulls my heart strings every-time, for the Senna movie I honestly don’t think you could have put a more fitting voice into a very tricky scene.


Not surprised Lewis didn’t attend. Sid was never his greatest fan.

Mind, I think Ayrton would have attended, had he had the chance.


Given his contribution to the sport, which is widely acknowledged to be significant, do you think it’s a little odd there was no representative of the current crop of drivers in attendance at the memorial? Even from a PR perspective?


Well done doc, have fun wherever you are


James, there have been comments on various forums and blogs criticising the fact no current F1 drivers attended the service. Given the PR nature of F1 it seems strange that this happened by accident, that none of them bothered to attend nor that any of their teams would instruct them to attend given the criticism it would surely draw.

Is there a reason why no current F1 drivers attended the service? For example, were they not invited, or were they asked not to attend so not to draw attention away from the service itself (ie, so the funeral didn’t turn into a press conference on the 2013 season) – or did some intend on coming but the weather conditions in the UK prevented them from flying in?


I thought it worse that there were not more of the drivers whom Sid saved. Some of the guys from the 1980s and 1990s.


Oh, I agree with you; to me the criticism seems a little unfair given the potential media storm drivers on the current grid would attract diverting attention from the reason for the event – remembering Sid Watkins.

The retired drivers would not attract this attention, plus their reasons for attending would be more personal given that he saved their lives.

However there seems to be a degree of cynicism across blogs and F1 forums towards the F1 drivers not attending which is why I asked the question.


I was more disappointed that there weren’t any of the older drivers Sid saved


Mila Hakkinen particularly


Mika I mean damn iPad! :-))


Lovely piece James but I believe that non of the current F1 drivers showed up.

Is that true?


Can’t wait to read a bio.


Rather a shame that none of the current crop of F1 drivers could be bothered to turn up to help remember and celebrate the life of one of the men that did most to make their sport safe. Says it all, really.


Prof was a fantastic person. Both as a neurosurgeon, a formula one doctor and as a person in general. I am a doctor as are my parents. I never had the luck to meet him myself but my parents did at medical meeting and said he was delightful person to speak to. He will be sorely missed!

On a different note, James, any idea why Dr Gary Hartstein’s contract wasn’t renewed? All seems to me to bit odd. He has been in F1 for a huge length of time.


Love hearing Prof stories, he was obviously a great man, who achieved greatness.


Maybe he’s going fishing with Senna now. What a great of our sport, a person who never rested on his laurels.


Godspeed Prof. Great professional, great raconteur, great man.

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