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F1 Advent Calendar 2012 (Day 14) - Goodbye Sid // The Formula One world pays tribute to Professor Sid Watkins

Published by Christine

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Hello there, welcome, this is the F1 Advent Calendar 2012. We’re well into the second half of the season now, but it wasn’t all fun, games and happiness. This is one of the key moments of the season, and it’s a sad one. Day Fourteen - Goodbye Sid.

Professor Sid Watkins died on the 12th September 2012, aged 84. He was a much-loved member of the paddock for all his work on Formula One safety and medical enhancements within the sport. Safety within F1 is one of the most visible improvements there has been over the years. Where technology in motorsport is always moving forward, engines, oils, fuel, tyres, it’s hard to see the bigger picture due to the intense secrecy which teams work in.

But, see a driver have a high speed accident, flying up into the air and landing in the barriers with a massive crash, see him walk away from that with just a bruise here or there, and you know that safety within F1 has come on leaps and bounds and a lot of that came at the hands of Sid Watkins.

The Professor had a distinguished career before he became involved in motorsport, working in the Royal Army Medical Corps and as Professor of Neurosurgery at a New York University. Whilst in the States, he got involved in the racing action at Watkins Glen, helping out with his own team of medical professionals and using his own equipment at the circuit.

Then, Watkins met Bernie Ecclestone, and was invited to be the Safety and Medical Delegate in F1. It was 1978, and the sport had seen more than its fair share of deaths. There were still more to come, of course, but as the improvements started to make a difference, the accidents became less lethal. It’s touted as a statistic more times than it should be, but Ayrton Senna’s death was the last on-track in F1, and it was nearly twenty years ago.

He worked hard with Max Mosley, Charlie Whiting, Jackie Stewart and many more to push through safety improvements that weren’t always popular but were always much-needed. Even after he stepped down from the delegate role in 2004, he stayed with the sport in various advisory roles within the FIA. He retired as President of the FIA Institute in 2011, but was still given an honorary role within the organisation.

Improvements that Watkins made included demanding more from the circuits, and from Ecclestone himself, things like the Medevac helicopter and the medical car. Following the drivers round the first lap of the Grand Prix - the most incident prone moment of any race - was also something that came from Watkins, keeping the medical car in the vicinity in case the worst should happen.

After his death, many F1 names paid tribute to Watkins, including his replacement (although not any longer), Gary Hartstein, who said: “What he got done was extraordinary, but it was the way he got it done in the face of extraordinary opposition at the time. He kept pushing and pushing so hard to the extent that it is now accepted as the way.”

McLaren chairman Ron Dennis said: “No he wasn’t an 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 F1 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.”

There was a one minute silence at the next race in Singapore, with a book of remembrance made available for the entire paddock to sign. It took pride of place next to a statue of the man himself, which was commissioned the previous year upon his retirement. The book was to be presented to his family on behalf of the entire Formula One community - all of whom are thankful for Watkins’ work and will not forget his tireless efforts to keep the sport safer.

That’s all for this episode of the 2012 F1 Advent Calendar, thank you for joining me today. There are some excellent tributes on Sidepodcast for Sid Watkins, always worth checking out. Meanwhile, join me again next time for another peek behind the doors of our F1 Advent.

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