RIP Professor Sid Watkins. We will miss you. You deserved a knighthood for all the work you put into saving drivers lives before the accidents occurred, alas you ‘only’ got an OBE. Without your input, the sport will have had many more fatalities since Senna’s death in 1994. Many drivers owe their lives and more to you. Time for you to go fishing with Ayrton
Let us take a look at some of the work that he has done for motorsport safety since Ayrton Senna‘s death in 1994.
At the 1995 Australian GP he performed a trackside tracheotomy to save Mika Hakkinen‘s life, and also restarted his heart not once, but TWICE.
He ‘invented’ the HANS device that is compulsory in all forms of motorsport. I say ‘invented’ because you had a helping hand in developing it.
He had the sides of the cockpits raised to give the drivers better head protection
He had wheel tethers introduced to try and keep the wheels attached to the cars in a collision.
He introduced collapsible steering columns, which as well as being used in F1 and other forms of motorsport , are also used in road cars.
He introduced new, much more stringent crash tests for the front, rear and sides of the car, which meant the cars had to be made much stronger.
He also introduced the foam padding around the cockpit to further protect the drivers in a collision.
He called for downforce levels to be reduced to reduce cornering speeds, and therefore accident speeds. In fact in the races after Senna’s death, downforce was reduced overall by around 15%, which is a noticeable drop in grip for a car as sensitive as an F1 car.
He also did work on the tracks as well as the cars. He called for larger run-off areas to reduce the chance of a high-speed collision with a barrier. He also called for new barrier types to be used to reduce G-forces in collisions.
He will be missed so much that people have said said seeing him in the paddock automatically made the sport feel safer.
I will end this article with 2 Sid Watkins quotes from the Senna movie at Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna’s death. Rest in peace. We all love you. Your death has hit us hard. You are the TRUE legend of Formula 1.
‘Ayrton got very, very upset and cried a bit. And that’s when I said to him ”You know, Ayrton, you’ve been three times World Champion, you’re the fastest man in the world” and he liked fishing, so I said ”Why don’t you quit, and I’ll quit and we’ll just go fishing?” ‘
‘We got him out of the cockpit, got his helmet off and got an airway into him. And I saw from his neurological signs that it was going to be a fatal head injury. And he sighed, and his body relaxed and that was the moment… I’m not religious… that I thought his spirit had departed.”