December 9 2013 Latest news:
Michael Bailey , Formula One correspondent
Friday, September 21, 2012
I only woke up to the job done by Sid Watkins with the stunning film Senna, released last year. In the footage and among the poignant exchanges with Ayrton shone a medical officer whose job clearly revolved around more than looking after the odd trackside emergency.
"I am pretty sure he is irreplaceable… You only meet somebody of his calibre once in your lifetime"
Just a matter of minutes was all it took for Watkins to show his genuine care for the drivers’ physical and mental wellbeing; a level of duty far beyond any job description drawn up by Bernie Ecclestone et al.
Watkins died last week at the age of 84. He served as FIA medical delegate for 26 years from 1978 through to 2004. Or if you like, from a time when driver deaths in F1 were ten a penny to the continuing impressive safety record the sport now enjoys – and must never take for granted.
Watkins’ legacy is that record. His effect on F1 the greatest of all. His drive for unparalleled safety uncompromising and irresistible.
My words, as warmly meant as they are, will never carry the significance required to do justice to Watkins’ work. But there is a lengthy list of people who can.
• GW – Jules Bianchi: Given time in both a Ferrari and Force India during the latest young drivers’ test at Magny-Cours, the Frenchman continues to court a seat for next season.
• BW – Alternators: Renault are in a race against time to solve their issues, believed to cause overheating at low revs, in time for this weekend’s race in Singapore.
Be it F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who saw at first hand his sport’s transformation under Watkins.
Or Frank Williams. Within five hours of the 1986 accident in France that saw him break his neck, Watkins dropped everything to travel by aeroplane and arrive by his side to help save his life. Then there is the likes of Mika Hakkinen, Gerhard Berger, Rubens Barrichello – all owe their racing careers to The Prof. But perhaps best placed of all is ex-Lotus driver Martin Donnelly – owner of another striking scene from Senna. At one point, the film shifts to the sight of a yellow-overalled man lying prone on the Jerez track in 1990. He has been thrown from his destroyed yellow racer – despite being strapped into his seat.
You assume the driver is dead. By all accounts he should be.
“If it wasn’t for Sid I wouldn’t be here talking to you now,” Donnelly told me earlier this week – still clearly moved by the miracle performed by Watkins, who was first on the scene to remove Donnelly’s helmet and return oxygen to his blue, lifeless head – and personally oversaw the Northern Irishman’s troubled recovery.
“Sid knew from his experience and the size of the impact I had, to survive 42-Gs, that my bones would heal themselves in time but the body itself would go into shock. He gave me an injection to paralyse every muscle in my body so I could be transported to the hospital – and as Sid foresaw, the very next day my body went into shock. I was put into an induced coma for seven weeks. I was on a respirator for six weeks. I had kidney dialysis every day for three hours. I was twice given the last rites.
“What some people don’t realise is Sid got hold of someone to go with him to the hospital in Seville who could be his translator.
“This guy was dragged into the theatre, scrubbed up and had to translate between what the Spanish surgeons were doing and what Sid wanted them to do. Apparently it was holy war.
“Sid had to tell the surgeons not to take my leg off. They couldn’t stop the blood leaking from all over the place – and Sid took his belt off and strapped it around my thigh. He had to do that twice and to this day, through Sid’s efforts, I still have my own leg.”
An “old school” man “at absolutely the top of his game”, Watkins ensured Donnelly would be able to drive a car again – but that was the least Donnelly would recognise him for.
“He was a very wise man, and we were close friends,” Donnelly added. “He gave me a second chance – Sid Watkins was God on that day. Every day I appreciate what I’ve got and pay tribute to what he did for me.
“He’s the reason I cherish each day, that I have a lovely wife, my children and the rest of my life.”
Remarkably, Donnelly isn’t the only man who can say that. A permanent F1 tribute to Watkins is the only way that can be recognised – but no matter what, his legacy will never be forgotten.