Professor Sidney Watkins has died at the age of 84, following a long battle with cancer.
Prof Watkins was largely responsible for the development of appropriate medical facilities in motor sport through his role as head of the Formula One on-track medical team. For 26 years, he spent race weekends being the difference between life and death in Formula One accidents – he saved the lives of, among others, Mika Hakkinen, Gerhard Berger, Rubens Barrichello and Karl Wendlinger.
Prof Watkins was a close friend of Ayrton Senna, and tended to the Brazilian at the scene of his fatal crash at Imola in 1994. Following Senna’s death, safety in Formula One was prioritised heavily and through the efforts of Watkins, among others, there have to date been no further F1 fatalities.
Aside from his role in Formula One, Professor Watkins was a world-renowned neurosurgeon and founded the Brain and Spine Foundation in 1992. He was made a member of the Order of the British Empire, and received many other accolades during his remarkable career.
Since his death yesterday, tributes have poured in for “Prof”, as he was known in Formula One. He is remembered as “a brilliant man, a life saver” and “the kindest and most caring person one could ever hope to meet in Formula One racing – or anywhere else for that matter”, and those are just two of the thousands of messages flooding the media at the moment. It is clear from the reaction of the racing world in particular, that this was a great and humble man, and that medicine and racing have been affected in enormously positive ways by his touch.
The day before Senna died, Prof Watkins was concerned about his friend’s mental state in the wake of two big accidents – those of Rubens Barrichello, who was hospitalised, and Roland Ratzenberger, who was killed in qualifying – and suggested that he and Senna should leave the circuit, go fishing, and forget about the race. Perhaps now, as suggested by F1 News & Views on Twitter, “Sid Watkins and Aryton Senna are finally off fishing together”.