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GP Week : Issue 167
VALE: PROF SID WATKINS Tributes abound, but Ron's eloquence sums it up F1 >>> NEWS The F1 world was deeply saddened late last week by the news of the death of Professor Sid Watkins, the former FIA medical delegate to whom many drivers owe their lives. Watkins was the pioneer when it came to improving safety. A lifelong fan of motorsport, Watkins volunteered at Watkins Glen Circuit during an overseas posting, but it was not until a meeting with Bernie Ecclestone in 1978 that the respected neurosurgeon became involved in Formula One. In the early days, Watkins faced stiff opposition from circuit staff, who saw his presence as a criticism of their own medical and safety provisions. During the 1978 Italian Grand Prix, a police blockade prevented Watkins from reaching the injured Ronnie Peterson, who died of his injuries the following day. Peterson’s death proved to be a catalyst for improvements in safety standards, and Watkins was able to push through a number of measures that have since become a basic requirement of a grand prix weekend. Thanks to Watkins’ on-going efforts to improve trackside medical care, F1 drivers now have access to anaesthetists, a medical car, and helicopters for instant evacuation. Following the black weekend at Imola in 1994, which saw the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, as well as a serious accident for Rubens Barrichello, Watkins was involved in the formation of the FIA Expert Advisory Safety Committee, which has since been merged with other groups and become the FIA Institute for Motor Sport Safety. The popular Briton died on Wednesday afternoon aged 84, following a long battle with cancer. He was surrounded by his family. The world of Formula One rushed to pay tribute to the man whose efforts had made the sport safer for all, with drivers and team figures alike expressing their condolences at his passing, but one close friend summed everyone's thoughts up perfectly: “Today the world of motor racing lost one of its true greats: Professor Sid Watkins,” Ron Dennis said when news of Watkins’ death emerged. “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 One 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.” "He was a truly great man, and the world of motor racing simply won’t be the same without him.” Below l to r: Sid Watkins, with good friend Ayrton Senna; with Bernie Ecclestone (1993), who backed his medical facilities campaign to the hilt; attending to Takuma Sato after a huge shunt; with Gerhard Berger at MIRA, working on safety initiatives ...