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GP Week : Issue 200
One of Ayrton senna’s closest friends within F1 was Professor sid Watkins. The “Prof’ headed the F1 safety Commission and is credited with the momentum for the introduction of many of the modern safety developments both before and after that tragic day in 1994, such as high cockpit sides and Hans neck restraints. Professor Watkins, who died in September 2012 at the age of 84, rode in the F1 Medical Car for many years, attending to many injured drivers. That meant that he was there when the fatally-injured Roland Ratzenberger was removed from his car and, the next day, his good friend Ayrton Senna. As Prof wrote in his tremendous book, Life at the Limit, the weekend had been so bad that he had suggested to Ayrton that he quit, and had a premonition that something bad was going to happen. We take up the Prof’s story as the field was released from behind the Safety Car following the race's startline shunt: “Senna was at the front, closely followed by Schumacher. These two went off like lightning on their next lap. My premonition crystallised. I turned to (Medical Car driver) Casoni. ‘There’s going to be a fucking awful accident any minute.’ “The next moment the red flags were out again. Casoni took off and as we approached Tamburello, somehow I knew it was Senna. He was slumped in the Williams car and the doctor from the first inter vention car was with him, holding his helmeted head. “For the third time that weekend, there was a frantic effort to cut the chin strap and get the helmet off. We supported Ayrton’s neck and removed the helmet. His eyes were closed and he was deeply unconscious ... “He looked serene. I raised his eyelids and it was clear from his pupils that he had a massive brain injury. We lifted him from the cockpit and laid him on the ground. As we did, he sighed and, though I am totally agnostic, I felt his soul departed at that moment ...” Some years later, Prof reflected on his relationship with Ayrton: "I came to know him well over the years," the professor said. "Our common concern for circuit safety around the world brought us together and we became close friends. He was a delightful person to talk to, and he could relax almost anywhere. Some of the deepest and most interesting conversations which we had took place in airport lounges, or even on board a plane on an intercontinental flight. "As a human being, he was full of contradictions. On the track and in negotiations, he had a reputation for being ruthless. People would describe this more politely by using the word 'committed,' but 'ruthless' says it better. As a private person, though, he was really very kind. He was deeply devoted to his family, certainly not the assertive type that you normally expect to see in a racing driver. "I once persuaded him to speak at the private school which my stepsons were attending in Edinburgh. It is a long drive from London, at least six hours, but he wanted to do it. At that time he had started to take an interest in Jim Clark, who was of course a Scotsman, and he took the opportunity to visit the lonely little village on the border of Scotland and England where Clark's trophies were assembled as a memorial to him after he was killed in 1968. "My stepsons were boarding at Loretto School in Musselburgh, the very place where Jim Clark was educated, so there was an extra incentive for Ayrton to make the trip. The magic of the occasion was the way Ayrton handled things. He took a genuine interest in the pupils, and the patience with which he satisfied their curiosity was striking. "Little boys aged from 11 to 18 are absolutely penetrating and ruthless in their questions. They asked him about his religion, his secrets, his relationship with other drivers; this was at the period when he and Prost were not getting on too well. I was interested when they asked what he felt about the world, what he wanted to do with his life. And that was another problem for him, because he really didn't know what he would do if he stopped driving ... except that he would like to get married and settle down.” Ayrton and the Professor Prof Watkins tends to Rubens Barrichello (above) who crashed on the Friday at Imola. The weekend was to bring far worse ... F1 >>> FEATUrE 25 GPWEEK.com // 25 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: