THE man known to the fastest drivers in the world as ‘Professor Sid’ or even just ‘Sid’, died yesterday (September 12) at the age of 84.
Watkins took up the role of Formula 1 Race Doctor in 1978, after being offered the role by Bernie Eccleston. Three years later he was appointed chairman of the FIA Expert Advisory Safety Committee.
He is held in great esteem by the Formula 1 community for his work in dirver safety, in particular during the dark dys of the mid-1990s, when a series of dangerous, sometimes fatal crashes brought the sport’s existence into doubt.
It was Watkins and his team who pulled Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian driver hailed as one of the greatest drivers of all time, from his fatal crash at Imola in 1994.
Senna’s death marked a nadir in the sport’s history: at the same Grand Prix rookie driver Roland Ratzenberger was also killed. In qualifying, Rubens Barrichello went into another dangerous collision.
Watkins had counselled Senna before the race, noting how upset the Brazilian was at the deaths of his colleagues.
“What else do you need to do?” Watkins asked, “You have been world champion three times, you are obviously the quickest driver. Give it up and let’s go fishing.”
Rubens Barrichello led the tributes on Twitter, saying: “It was Sid Watkins that saved my life at Imola in 1994. Great guy to be with, always happy. Thanks for everything you have done for us drivers.”
Another Brazilian, Senna’s nephew Bruno, in his first F1 season, wrote: “RIP Prof. Sid Watkins. Bad news for us who stay behind.”
Thanks in no small part to Watkins’ efforts, Imola 94 saw the last driver fatality on a Formula 1 track.
After stepping down from his Formula 1 duties, Watkins retired to the Borders, firstly at Lennel and then near Crookham, with his wife, Susan Elinor.