MU MUCH MISTAKEN…
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.