Eric Sidney Watkins
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Full Name Eric Sidney Watkins OBE, FRCS
Date of Birth 6 September 1928
Date of Death 12 September 2012 (aged 84)
Years Active 1978 - 2011

Eric Sidney Watkins OBE, FRCS, commonly known within the Formula One fraternity as Professor Sid or simply Prof (born 6 September 1928), was a world-renowned English neurosurgeon.

Watkins served twenty-six years as the FIA Formula One Safety and Medical Delegate, head of the Formula One on-track medical team, and first responder in case of a crash. He helped to save the lives of many drivers including Gerhard Berger, Martin Donnelly, Érik Comas, Mika Häkkinen and Karl Wendlinger. Watkins was also known for his friendship with driver Ayrton Senna until the death of the latter.

Watkins was married, with four sons and two daughters. He died on 12 September 2012 after suffering a heart attack


Early LifeEdit

Sidney Watkins was born in Liverpool, UK to Wallace and Jessica Watkins. Wallace was originally a coal miner from Gloucestershire, but had moved to Liverpool during the Great Depression of the 1930s where he started a small business initially repairing bicycles before progressing to motor vehicle repairs. Sid Watkins worked for his father at the garage until he was 25. He had two brothers and a sister.

Watkins graduated as a Doctor of Medicine from the University of Liverpool in 1956; during his time there he carried out research on the effects of heat stress on performance, finding that increased heat greatly affected intellectual performance. This research would later prove useful as part of his work in motor racing. Following graduation, he served with the Royal Army Medical Corps in West Africa for four years. There he competed in his only motorsport event, driving a Ford Zephyr Zodiac in the 1955 West African Rally, retiring from the event after the first stage. He returned to the UK in 1958 to specialize in neurosurgery at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford and it was in 1961 when he took up his first motorsport event in a medical capacity at a kart race at the Brands Hatch circuit. During his free time he acted as race doctor at the Silverstone Circuit.

Upon receiving an offer to be professor of neurosurgery at the State University of New York in 1962, Watkins moved to Syracuse, New York and continued his interest in motorsport at the Watkins Glen circuit. He returned to England in 1970 to act as head of neurosurgery at the London Hospital, and was invited to join the RAC medical panel the same year.

Formula OneEdit


In 1978 he met Bernie Ecclestone, at the time chief executive of the Formula One Constructors Association, who offered Watkins the position of official Formula One race doctor. Ecclestone had checked in for a medical problem and offered Watkins $35,000 a year for the entire season. Watkins had to pay airfaires, hotel bills, rental cars and all incidental expenses. Watkins accepted, and attended his first race at the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix. Outside of the Grand Prix weekends, he remained in his position as a neurosurgeon in London. His first day as the Safety and Medical Delegate, was at Brands Hatch to introduce himself to the drivers.

Initially, his appointment was met with hostility by some of the racing circuits, who saw his appointment as a way of monitoring their performance. At the time, medical facilities would sometimes consist of nothing more than a tent. At the 1978 Italian Grand Prix, Ronnie Peterson crashed heavily on the first lap, with the car catching fire. Fellow drivers Clay Regazzoni, Patrick Depailler and James Hunt pulled him from the wreckage but by the time Sid Watkins arrived at the scene, Italian police had formed a human wall to prevent people from entering the area. Watkins was initially stopped from assisting with the treatment and there was a long delay of approximately 18 minutes before an ambulance arrived to take Peterson to hospital, where he died the following day. Following the race, Watkins demanded that Ecclestone provide better safety equipment, an anaesthetist, a medical car and a medical helicopter (Medevac). All were provided at the next race in the USA. In addition, it was decided that the medical car containing Watkins would follow the racing cars for the first lap of the race in order to provide immediate help in the event of a first lap incident.


1981 saw FISA, motorsport's governing body at the time, appoint a Medical Commission, with Watkins elected President. In 1982, Watkins went into the medical car driven by Roland Bruynseraede and tended to Gilles Villeneuve and placed a tube into his windpipe for ventilation with his heart in normal condition. Villeneuve was taken to the University Hospital in Liege and spoke to Villeneuve's wife Joann who was in her home in Monaco when 1979 champion Jody Scheckter informed her of the news. Joann flew to Belgium along with Scheckter's wife Pam to speak with Watkins. Joann and Watkins both accepted the decision to turn off his respirator. At the Canadian Grand Prix, Wakins had to deal with the fatal accident of Riccardo Paletti on the first lap of the race. Watkins got to Paletti's car 16 seconds after impact and opened the visor of the helmet to see his blown pupils. Then before any medical attention could be received, Paletti's car caught fire due to the petrol tank having ruptured and ignited. Watkins had suitable clothing to prevent him from suffering serious burns but his hands were affected. After he extinguished the fire, he took off his gloves to put an airway into Paletti's throat but Watkins' boots had melted in the fire. At the British Grand Prix in 1985, Watkins received a silver trophy during the drivers briefing. The trophy reads; "To the Prof, our thanks for your invaluable contribution to Formula 1. Nice to know you're there".

In 1987, Nelson Piquet crashed during practice at the San Marino Grand Prix, and was declared unfit to race by Watkins. Despite it being only the 2nd race of the season Piquet tried to persuade officials to allow him to compete knowing any lost points could lose him the championship (which he ultimately won). In response Watkins threatened to resign if overruled. The officials opted to support Watkins, and Piquet sat out the race, later admitting that it was the correct decision.


Watkins founded the Brain and Spine Foundation in 1992, a charity that aims to improve "the prevention, treatment and care of people affected by disorders of the brain and spine". He remains a Patron of the foundation.

The FIA has recognized Watkins for being largely responsible for the modernization of medical standards in Formula One as well as the saving of many lives including Didier Pironi (1982) and Rubens Barrichello (1994). Saving the life of Mika Häkkinen at the 1995 Australian Grand Prix by restarting his heart twice and performing a cricothyroidotomy at the side of the track was described by Watkins as his most satisfying experience during his time in the sport.

The FIA Expert Advisory Safety Committee was set up in 1994 following the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna (a close personal friend), and Watkins was appointed as its chairman. There has not been a driver fatality in Formula 1 ever since.

Watkins was awarded the Mario Andretti Award for Medical Excellence in 1996.


In 2002, Watkins was made a member of the Order of the British Empire.

Watkins was also responsible for setting up a rally research group and karting research group in 2003. The three groups were brought together in 2004 as the FIA Institute for Motor Sport Safety, with Watkins as president.

The University of Liverpool presented him with an honorary doctorate at a ceremony in Liverpool on July 8, 2004. On October 12, 2004, Watkins became the first president of the FIA Foundation for the Automobile and Society, and in December of that year he became the first president of the FIA Institute for Motor Sport Safety, both created in honor of the FIA's hundredth anniversary.

On January 20, 2005, Watkins announced his retirement from his various medical positions in the FIA, but stated his intention to continue as President of the FIA Institute for Motor Sport Safety. FIA President Max Mosley appointed Watkins's longtime deputy Gary Hartstein as his successor. Following his departure Mosley remarked that "Professor Watkins has made a unique contribution to improving the standards of safety and medical intervention throughout motor sport." In July 2008, Watkins was honoured for the award of 'Most Outstanding Contribution to the Motorsport Industry" with the award presented by Martin Brundle at the House of Lords. On December 8, 2011 it was announced that Watkins had stepped down as President of the FIA Institute, but would continue in an honorary role. The day after retiring, he received the FIA Academy Gold Medal for Motor Sport at the official FIA Gala prize-giving ceremony in Dubai.

Each year the Motorsport Safety Fund organises the Watkins Lecture, which takes place at the Autosport Show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. These lectures usually focus on motorsport safety related matters, and have been delivered by guest speakers such as Max Mosley and Ross Brawn.

Watkins has written or co-authored a number of books on racing safety, including Life at the Limit: Triumph and Tragedy in Formula One.

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