It has been 18 years since the late Professor Sid Watkins announced his retirement from Formula 1.
Watkins was the F1 Medical Delegate for 26 years, having first taken up the position at the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix.
F1 saw numerous increases in safety over the years since his involvement, but it was not until the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna – a personal friend of Watkins – that it took a scientific and research-based approach.
The mortality rate in F1 since 1994 speaks for itself, with just the single, tragic death of Jules Bianchi in July 2015 after injuries sustained at the Japanese Grand Prix nine months before.
Watkins was often the first person drivers would see whenever they were involved in a crash on track, as he was the first responder on the scene in the medical car.
He was also a massive advocate of the Head and Neck Support (HANS) frontal head restraint device developed by the late Dr Robert Hubbard, which have become 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 that Watkins had on overall driver safety: “Unfortunately, I attended way too many funerals and memorial services, but there would have been many more if we hadn’t had the Prof,” he explained to ESPN.
Former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who installed Watkins as the permanent doctor after meeting him in the ’70s, also commented saying that he was “irreplaceable.”
“We owe him a lot of thanks for his care and determination,” Ecclestone said.
“I’m pretty much sure he’s irreplaceable. You meet someone of their calibre at most once in your entire life.”
The ground work done by Watkins has certainly paid off, with the developments in driver safety showing their worth when Romain Grosjean emerged with only burns to his hands in his fiery crash at the start of the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix.