• Sid Watkins 1928-2012

Safety pioneer Sid Watkins dies aged 84

ESPN Staff
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Sid Watkins talks with Ayrton Senna on the eve of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Watkins advised Senna to quit, telling him: "Give it up and let's go fishing" © Getty Images

Professor Sid Watkins, the neurosurgeon who did more than anyone to make Formula One a safer sport, has died at the age of 84.

Watkins was brought into the sport by Bernie Ecclestone in 1978 at a time drivers were still being killed with grim regularity. Six had died in the previous five years, and shortly after Watkins' arrival Ronnie Peterson lost his life after an accident at Monza, largely as a result of poor medical facilities at the track.

Watkins, universally known in the paddock as 'Prof', worked tirelessly for safety improvement and was strongly backed by Max Mosley during his time as head of the FIA. He stepped down as F1's medical officer in 2004 but continuing to play a role at the governing body as first president of its foundation.

A wise-cracking whisky-drinking individual, Watkins won the respect, admiration and friendship of many drivers, perhaps most notably Ayrton Senna, the last man to die in an F1 race in 1994. In his book Life at the Limit: Triumph and Tragedy in Formula One Watkins wrote of Senna's final days and how distraught the Brazilian was at Roland Ratzenberger's death in qualifying the day before the grand prix.

Watkins could see how affected Senna was and advised him to quit there and then. "What else do you need to do?" he told Senna. "You've been world champion three times, you are obviously the quickest driver. Give it up and let's go fishing". Senna's reply, the last words he spoke to Watkins, was simple: "Sid, there are certain things over which we have no control. I cannot quit, I have to go on."

But Watkins saved many others, including Rubens Barrichello who had crashed heavily that same weekend. "It was Sid that saved my life in Imola 94," Barrichello said on hearing the news. "A great guy to be with, always happy. Thanks for everything you have done for us drivers." Martin Donnelly, Mika Hakkinen, Gerhard Berger and Frank Williams are others who owe much to Watkins' calm and quick response and care after life-threatening accidents.

FIA president Jean Todt said: "This is a truly sad day for the FIA family and the entire motor sport community. Sid was loved and respected in equal measure by all those who knew and worked with him. We will always be grateful for the safety legacy that he has left our sport."

McLaren chairman and former team boss Ron Dennis said: "No he wasn't a driver. No he wasn't an engineer. No, he wasn't a designer. He was a doctor and it's probably fair to say that he did more than anyone, over many years, to make Formula One as safe as it is today."