F1 Racing - - CHEQUERED FLAG -

hos­pi­tal that went to cir­cuits. Thwarted by the ob­struc­tive at­ti­tudes of na­tional mo­tor­sport bod­ies and cir­cuit own­ers, it didn’t last long, even though it did good work when al­lowed to.

How­ever, cometh the hour, cometh the man, and in 1978 de­ci­sive ac­tion was taken by Bernie Ec­cle­stone, as it has been in so many other ar­eas of F1, when he iden­ti­fied and re­cruited one of the most out­stand­ing men in the his­tory of our sport – Pro­fes­sor Sid Watkins – and in­vited him to make F1 safer. Sid, one of the world’s lead­ing neu­rol­o­gists and a pas­sion­ate mo­tor­sport enthusiast al­ready well versed in its spe­cialised med­i­cal needs, will­ingly ac­cepted, adding Bernie’s brief to his mas­sive work­load, and set about im­prov­ing mat­ters with mis­sion­ary zeal.

It is im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine any­one bet­ter suited to trans­form­ing F1’s once rick­ety med­i­cal struc­ture than Sid Watkins. His no-non­sense but warm and friendly per­son­al­ity, his sharp sense of hu­mour and his im­pres­sive abil­ity to lead from the front by get­ting on with things and in­spir­ing peo­ple made him ideal for the ar­du­ous task. He knew ev­ery­one who mat­tered in the med­i­cal world and, backed to the hilt by the FIA, Sid, over a pe­riod of 30 years, ab­so­lutely trans­formed F1’s safety sit­u­a­tion.

Ever more strin­gent reg­u­la­tions con­cern­ing car de­sign and driver pro­tec­tion were, and con­tinue to be, made. Prop­erly equipped med­i­cal cen­tres be­came a req­ui­site at ev­ery cir­cuit, lo­cal hos­pi­tals with trained staff were ap­pointed to act as com­pre­hen­sive back up, he­li­copters had to be on standby at tracks to rush ca­su­al­ties away, and Sid him­self would be in the Safety Car, along with an anaes­thetist, to follow the com­peti­tors around the cir­cuit on the first lap of the race. All this and much, much more was down to ‘The Prof’ who brooked no op­po­si­tion to his cease­less and suc­cess­ful ef­forts to make things bet­ter.

Sadly this great and lov­able man died two years ago. And even Sid could never have made F1 en­tirely safe – and it never will be. Jules Bianchi’s tragic ac­ci­dent at Suzuka, re­cently in­ves­ti­gated by an F1 com­mis­sion, sadly em­pha­sises that wheel-to-wheel rac­ing at 200mph will al­ways be hazardous.

But F1 owes a huge debt of grat­i­tude to Sid Watkins and all the self­less peo­ple who helped him progress what Jackie Ste­wart started.

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