Saturday, 15 September 2012

Parting of the 'Prof'

A unique personality and legend in the world of motor racing, Professor Sid Watkins will be missed by all involved in the sport.  Many drivers and ex - drivers owe their lives to him, including Mika Hakkinen and Gerhard Berger, but with the opinion that it is better to prevent rather than cure, he will be remembered more for being an ambassador for safer racing.

His tireless crusade for safety in motorsport was sparked by Ronnie Peterson's crash at Monza in 1978.   Professor Watkins, race doctor at the time,  was prevented from gaining access to the scene by Italian police, resulting in a delay in medical help reaching the injured drivers.  Believing Ronnie's was a death that could have been prevented, Sid campaigned for improved medical facilities at races, including use of helicopters and the employment of a medical car to trail the Formula One cars until the end of the first lap.  Well equipped medical centres took the place of the ineffective tents.

Medical car can be seen in the distance following the crash at Spa.

He also advised changes to circuits to make them safer, and was responsible for a multitude of changes to the car.  Eliminating the inevitability of a burst fuel tank and engulfing flames following a crash was a huge step in bringing more safety to the sport.  He also brought about the use of the HANS device, energy absorbing foam around the cockpits and more effectual helmet design. No fatality since Senna and Ratzenberger in 1994 is a major accomplishment and shows that he really did 'do himself out of a job' as put by Bernie Ecclestone.

Sid and Bernie

There will always be more work to do regarding safety in Formula One.  The issue of closed cockpits is constantly rearing its rotten head.  Putting a cockpit over the drivers head will prevent the medical team from being able to get the driver out while they are still in their seat, which was another of Professor Watkins' improvements.   Any new safety features introduced in the future should not infringe upon or undo those made by the 'Prof'.  Let his legend live on. 

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