Sid Watkins bigraphy, stories - Formula One doctor

Sid Watkins : biography

6 September 1928 - 12 September 2012

Eric Sidney Watkins, OBE, FRCS, commonly known within the Formula One fraternity as Professor Sid or simply Prof (6 September 1928 – 12 September 2012), was an English neurosurgeon.

Born in Liverpool, Watkins enrolled at the University of Liverpool where he graduated in 1952 later serving four years in the Royal Army Medical Corps before specialising in Neurosurgery in Oxford and later London. Watkins also acted as a race track doctor at weekends which he continued at Watkins Glen International when he was appointed the Professor of Neurosurgery at Syracuse University.

A meeting with Brabham team boss Bernie Ecclestone who offered him the role 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 for which Watkins performed for twenty six years. He helped to save the lives of many drivers including Gerhard Berger, Martin Donnelly, Érik Comas, Mika Häkkinen, Rubens Barrichello and Karl Wendlinger. Watkins was also known for his friendship with driver Ayrton Senna until Senna's death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

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

Early life

Sidney Watkins was born in Liverpool 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. Watkins worked for his father at the garage until he was 25. He had two brothers and a sister. Watkins gained a scholarship at Bootle Grammar School. He told his father that he wanted to become a doctor, an idea of which his father disapproved.

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. Watkins took four members to the circuit and his own medical equipment due to the lack of supplies provided by circuit officials. 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.


Since his retirement, the FIA has recognised Watkins for being largely responsible for the modernization of medical standards in Formula One. On 20 January 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 September 2005, an campaign to knight Watkins was started by a group of supporters.

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 8 December 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.

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