When F1 lost its guardian angel: "Without him, I would attend more funerals"

When F1 lost its guardian angel: “Without him, I would attend more funerals”

It’s been 18 years since the late Professor Sid Watkins announced his retirement from Formula 1.

Watkins was F1’s medical delegate for 26 years, having first taken charge at the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix.

F1 has seen many safety improvements over the years since its involvement, but it wasn’t until the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna – a personal friend of Watkins – that it adopted a scientific and research approach to security.

The death rate in F1 since 1994 speaks for itself, with Jules Bianchi’s only tragic death in July 2015 following injuries sustained at the Japanese Grand Prix nine months prior.

Watkins was often the first person drivers saw when involved in an accident on the track, as he was the first responder to the scene in the medical car.

He was also a strong advocate of the Head and Neck Support (HANS) frontal head restraint developed by the late Dr. Robert Hubbard, which transformed safety and became an integral part of driver safety.

Ecclestone: ‘He is irreplaceable’

After retiring from F1 at the age of 77, Watkins sadly passed away in 2012.

At his funeral, three-time drivers’ champion Sir Jackie Stewart noted the impact Watkins had on overall driver safety: “Unfortunately I have attended far too many funerals and memorial services, but there would have been far more had we not had the Teacher,” he explained to ESPN.

Former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who installed Watkins as his permanent doctor after meeting him in the 70s, also said he was “irreplaceable”.

“We owe him a lot of thanks for his care and determination,” Ecclestone said.

“I’m pretty sure he’s irreplaceable. You meet someone of his caliber at most once in your life.”

The groundwork done by Watkins has certainly paid off, with developments in driver safety showing their worth when Romain Grosjean came out with only burns to his hands in his fiery crash at the start of the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix.

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