F1 pays tribute to Sid Watkins

  • Last Updated: September 13 2012, 19:35 BST

Sir Frank Williams has hailed Sid Watkins "a very special human being" who, according to Sir Jackie Stewart, should receive the honour of a permanent memorial following his death on Thursday night.

Sid Watkins: On-track surgeon for 26 years from 1978 through to 2004

  • Related Content

The world of Formula One has been mourning the passing of Watkins at the age of 84 after a short illness, a man who was not only a leading neurosurgeon, but who helped pioneer safety in motorsport throughout his 26 years as medical delegate.

Watkins saved the lives of many a driver following an accident and also ensured many others over the years avoided suffering serious injuries.

Following a road accident in 1986 that left him paralysed, Watkins helped Williams on the road towards leading as normal a life as possible.

Reflecting on his life and work, Williams said: "Sid Watkins gained the respect and admiration of all the drivers throughout his time in Formula One.

"I know a number of them, throughout their time as racing drivers, looked to Sid for many different kinds of advice, in addition to his medical expertise.

"Perhaps most significant in my mind is that Sid was held in high regard by Bernie Ecclestone.

"He was in all respects a very special human being. In particular, his dedication to the safety of the drivers required endless persistence to achieve the safety standards and level of medical care that were necessary to save drivers' lives.

"My own endorsement of Sid's abilities goes without saying. He took splendid care of me when I spent 11 weeks in his hospital post-injury.

"After that I emerged as a human being who, if not fully mobile, could continue with a perfectly normal and healthy lifestyle. I remain forever grateful to him."

It is why three-times champion Stewart feels Watkins' life should be honoured with much more than just words alone.

"There needs to be something permanently done to recognise his contribution to motor sport, particularly Formula One," said Stewart, speaking to Autosport.

"He was responsible for more life-saving than anyone else, certainly since my day."

Watkins was F1's race doctor from 1978 through to 2004, notably saving the lives of double world champion Mika Hakkinen, Didier Pironi, Martin Donnelly, Gerhard Berger and Rubens Barrichello during that time.

McLaren Group chairman and close friend Ron Dennis said: "The world of motor racing has lost one of it's true greats.

"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 he did more than anyone, over many years, to make Formula One as safe as it is today.

"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."

A number of drivers took to Twitter to express their sadness and condolences, yet a statement released by the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers' Association) summed up the feelings of all of its members.

"Thanks to his enormous efforts throughout more than two decades, Formula One achieved its present safety standards," read the GPDA statement.

"His contribution to Formula One with the improvements in the standards of safety and medical intervention in motor sport has been invaluable.

"He helped to save the lives of many Formula One drivers by modernising the medical intervention. Due to his work many serious injuries have since been avoided.

"Professor Sid Watkins' charisma and spirit will always be with us at all circuits around the world. We miss the great Professor and friend he was to many of us."

F1's current medical delegate Gary Hartstein learned his trade for seven years under Watkins' wing before branching out on his own.

"For a long time I wanted to call him every time I had to make a decision. Then I just started thinking 'what would he do in this situation?"' said Hartstein.

"And finally, for better or for worse, I realised I was doing just what he'd do (but probably not as well).

"When I told him this a few years ago, he smiled and said "Of course old boy! You've had a great teacher!

"He kinda had a big place in my life for a long time. Just about the most extraordinary person I've known."

After qualifying at the Liverpool University Medical School, Watkins trained as a neurosurgeon at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford before becoming Professor of Neurosurgery in New York where he regularly attended races at nearby Watkins Glen.

He became the first Professor of Neurosurgery at the London Hospital in 1970 when he was also appointed to the RAC medical panel.

He was approached by Formula One ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone in 1978 to become an on-track surgeon at grands prix and he was also the chief medical officer for the FIA, the sport's world governing body.

Upon stepping down, Watkins focused on his role as president of the FIA Institute for Motor Sport Safety through to December last year, continuing only in an honorary position.