Former Norfolk racers have paid tribute to their Formula One guardian angel Sid Watkins – the man who did so much for the cause of safety in the sport.

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The crash that ended Martin Donnelly's Lotus and Formula One career - and could have so easily ended his life, but for Sid Watkins.The crash that ended Martin Donnelly's Lotus and Formula One career - and could have so easily ended his life, but for Sid Watkins.

Former FIA medical delegate Watkins died on Wednesday at the age of 84, having been F1’s on-track surgeon for 26 years from 1978 through to 2004.

Add to that his crusade to improve medical facilities in the sport and helping to drastically cut the number of deaths and serious injuries during his involvement, and you have a man much loved by all in F1.

“Sid W would often prescribe ‘a stiff whisky and aspirin’ unless your leg was hanging off – his way of saying ‘just put up and get on with it,” said King’s Lynn racer Martin Brundle – describing Watkins as a “visionary” who once saved his left foot from being amputated.

Former Lotus driver Martin Donnelly suffered far worse at Jerez, being thrown from his wrecked car and on to the track before the actions of Watkins prevented a much greater tragedy.

“Sid most definitely saved Martin Donnelly’s life,” said Frank Williams, who had his own debt to pay after the medical man played his part in Williams’ survival from a broken neck after driving off a cliff in 1986.

Watkins was a close friend of Ayrton Senna and features heavily in the movie Senna – the respect held by the drivers for Watkins a recurring theme.

It was Watkins who tended to Senna when the Brazilian was killed during an infamous weekend at Imola in 1994, where Roland Ratzenberger also died and a young Rubens Barrichello suffered a terrifying crash of his own.

Former Lotus and Isport driver, and Ayrton’s nephew Bruno Senna, added: “RIP Prof Sid Watkins. – sad news for us who stay behind.”

Barrichello added: “It was Sid Watkins that saved my life in Imola 94. Great guy to be with, always happy... thanks for everything you have done for us drivers. RIP.”

McLaren Group chairman and close friend Ron Dennis said: “Today the world of motor racing lost one of its true greats. No, he wasn’t a driver. No, he wasn’t an engineer. No, he wasn’t a designer. He was a doctor and it’s probably fair to say he did more than anyone, over many years, to make Formula One as safe as it is today.

“Many drivers and ex-drivers owe their lives to his careful and expert work, which resulted in the massive advances in safety levels that today’s drivers possibly take for granted.”

F1’s current medical delegate Gary Hartstein, who learned his trade for seven years under Watkins’ wing, added: “He had a big place in my life for a long time. Just about the most extraordinary person I’ve known.”

Watkins worked tirelessly to improve safety in the cockpit, on the track and the medical support at circuits alongside the likes of Sir Jackie Stewart and Max Mosley.

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