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Eric Sidney Watkins OBE , FRCS (born September 6, 1928 ) is a world-renowned Englishmarker neurosurgeon.

Watkins served twenty-six years 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.

He is commonly known within the Formula One fraternity as Professor Sid or simply Prof and is married and has four sons and two daughters.

Early life

Sidney Watkins was born in Liverpoolmarker, UKmarker 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. Sid Watkins worked for his father at the garage until he was 25. He had two brothers and a sister.

Watkins graduated as a Doctor of Medicine from the University of Liverpoolmarker 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 Infirmarymarker, Oxfordmarker 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 Circuitmarker.

Upon receiving an offer to be professor of neurosurgery at the State University of New York in 1962, Watkins moved to Syracuse, New Yorkmarker and continued his interest in motorsport at the Watkins Glenmarker circuit. He returned to England in 1970 to act as head of neurosurgery at the London Hospitalmarker, and was invited to join the RAC medical panel the same year.

Formula One

In 1978 he met Bernie Ecclestone, at the time chief executive of the Formula One Constructors Association, who offered Watkins the position of official Formula One race doctor. Watkins accepted, and attended his first race at the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix. Outside of the Grand Prix weekends, he remained in his position as a neurosurgeon in London.

Initially, his appointment was met with hostility by some of the racing circuits, who saw his appointment as a way of monitoring their performance. At the time, medical facilities would sometimes consist of nothing more than a tent. At the 1978 Italian Grand Prix, Ronnie Peterson crashed heavily on the first lap, with the car catching fire. Fellow drivers Clay Regazzoni, Patrick Depailler and James Hunt pulled him from the wreckage but by the time Sid Watkins arrived at the scene, Italian police had formed a human wall to prevent people from entering the area. Watkins was initially stopped from assisting with the treatment and there was a long delay of approximately 18 minutes before an ambulance arrived to take Peterson to hospital, where he died the following day. Following the race, Watkins demanded that Ecclestone provide better safety equipment, an anaesthetist, a medical car and a medical helicopter (Medevac). All were provided at the next race in the USA. In addition, it was decided that the medical car containing Watkins would follow the racing cars for the first lap of the race in order to provide immediate help in the event of a first lap incident.

1981 saw FISA, motorsport's governing body, appoint a Medical Commission, with Watkins elected President. In 1987, Nelson Piquet crashed during practice at the San Marino Grand Prix, and was declared unfit to race by Watkins. Piquet was involved in a close battle for the championship and tried to persaude officials to allow him to compete. In response Watkins threatened to resign if overruled. The officials opted to support Watkins, and Piquet sat out the race, later admitting that it was the correct decision.

Watkins founded the Brain and Spine Foundation in 1992, a charity that aims to improve "the prevention, treatment and care of people affected by disorders of the brain and spine". He remains a Patron of the foundation.

The FIA has recognized Watkins for being largely responsible for the modernization of medical standards in Formula One as well as the saving of many lives including Didier Pironi (1982) and Rubens Barrichello (1994). Saving the life of Mika Häkkinen at the 1995 Australian Grand Prix by restarting his heart twice and performing a tracheotomy at the side of the track was described by Watkins as his most satisfying experience during his time in the sport.

The FIA Expert Advisory Safety Committee was setup in 1994 following the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna, and Watkins was appointed as its chairman. Watkins was also responsible for setting up a rally research group and karting research group in 2003. The three groups were brought together in 2004 as the FIA Institute for Motor Sport Safety, with Watkins as president.

Watkins was awarded the Mario Andretti Award for Medical Excellence in 1996. In 2002, Watkins was made a member of the Order of the British Empire. The University of Liverpool presented him with an honorary doctorate at a ceremony in Liverpool on July 8, 2004. On October 12, 2004, Watkins became the first president of the FIA Foundation for the Automobile and Society, and in December of that year he became the first president of the FIA Institute for Motor Sport Safety, both created in honor of the FIA's hundredth anniversary.


On January 20, 2005, Watkins announced his retirement from his various medical positions in the FIA, but stated his intention to continue as President of the FIA Instititute 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."

Each year the Motorsport Safety Fund organises the Watkins Lecture, which takes place at the Autosport Show at the National Exhibition Centremarker in Birmingham. These lectures usually focus on motorsport safety related matters, and have been delivered by guest speakers such as Max Mosley and Ross Brawn.

Watkins has written or co-authored a number of books on racing safety, including Life at the Limit: Triumph and Tragedy in Formula One.

List of works

  • Life at the Limit: Triumph and Tragedy in Formula One (Motorbooks Intl, 1996) ISBN 0760303150
  • The Science of Safety: The Battle Against Unacceptable Risks in Motor Racing (with David Tremayne, Haynes Publications, 2000) ISBN 1859606644
  • Beyond the Limit (with Jackie Stewart, Pan Books Ltd., 2002) ISBN 0330481967

See also


  1. The Flying Doctor
  2. Press Snoop: Watkins addresses SAE conference.
  3. FIA Formula One Medical Delegate

External links

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