Goodbye to ‘the prof’

The last week has seen the death of Professor Sid Watkins. He was 84 years of age and had been suffering from cancer for some time. It is interesting to see some of the comments that people in the business have made about him, and his importance in the sport in the last 30 years. He was the man who more than anyone stopped the deaths of F1 drivers. He could not save them all, of course, but his efforts were rewarded.

After the deaths of Gilles Villeneuve and Riccardo Paletti in 1982, there were no deaths at races until 1994 when Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger died on the same weekend at Imola.

Always present
Since then there have been no further fatalities and many accidents which, in another age, would have killed the drivers involved. On the race tracks he was there when there was a major accident.
He suffered burns to his ankles in 1982 when he was trying to save Paletti and the car caught fire. After the deaths at Imola, FIA President Max Mosley established a new FIA body called the Advisory Expert Group, which was designed to revolutionise the approach to safety in motorsport, with the goal being to apply science to the problem and research Watkins became the chairman and the work done by this body led to better circuit design, better barriers, stronger cars and a new generation of helmets, in addition to systems such as the head and neck support (HANS) device and energy-absorbing foam around the F1 cockpits.

The influence of these changes has been felt in every formula. Sid did not let bureaucracy get in the way. He spoke his mind.

The writer has covered every Grand Prix for the last 25 years


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