Professor Sid Watkins, “the Prof”, is a virtual icon in motorsport worlwide and, of course, is well known to all involved in motorsport Canada because of his many years involvement with the Formula 1 race initially at Mosport and St. Jovite and then at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.
Sid Watkins has always been interested in motoring, growing up around cars in his father’s garage, situated not far from Silverstone. He began to attend Formula 1 and other events in Silverstone in 1958 and subsequently ran the medical services of Silverstone for the Aston Martin racing weekend in 1962. During his time as a Professor of Neurosurgery in Syracuse, New York, commencing in 1962, he joined the administrative team of the American Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. He was really the first in the world to take a team of appropriate specialists trackside to provide immediate, high class medical attention, management and direction. Upon his return to the United Kingdom as the Professor of Neurosurgery at the London Hospital, he provided the medical and related safety services for the British Grand Prix from 1971 through 1977. Sid encouraged and supported Dr. Hugh Scully, with the support of Harvey Hudes, to establish at Mosport, one of the most advanced race medical intervention teams in the world at the time. (The Ontario Race Physicians continue to provide expert medical and related safety services at Mosport today).
In the spring of 1978, Sid was appointed the Medical Delegate for Formula 1 by Bernie Ecclestone and in fact attended virtually every Formula 1 race in the world for the next 25 years. Sid was elected the President of the FISA (Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile Medical Commission) in 1981 where he worked again with Dr. Hugh Scully to continue to improve the services in Montreal and, by association throughout Canada.
Labatts was a major sponsor of the Formula 1 enterprise in Montreal. In 1992, there was a ceremony in Montreal where Sid Watkins was presented with the “Labatts Award for Safety” by the Duke of Kent. (Sid was the second recipient of this award. The first had been Sir Jackie Stewart).
From 1992 through July of 2007, Sid continued to work actively with Dr. Jacques Bouchard and Ronald Denis as the Co-Medical Director’s of the Formula 1 race in Montreal. Without question, Sid’s support of the “Montreal model” was instrumental in establishing and maintaining a high standard of medical care in motorsport. The model created initially at Mosport and subsequently in Montreal has had significant positive effect on motorsport medicine and safety at virtually all motorsport events in Canada.
Professor Sid Watkins went on to become the President of the new FIA Medical Commission until his retirement from that position in 2007. In 1994, he was appointed Chairman of the FIA Expert Advisory Committee reporting to the President of the FIA. Organizing research groups for open cockpit, closed cockpit, rally and karting events, he was the founding President of the FIA Institute for Motorsport Safety in 2004. The “Institute” continues to do leading research in motorsport safety in all categories. In his capacity as President of the Medical Commission and President of the Institute, he served with distinction on the FIA World Motorsport Council.
Sid has bee the recipient of many awards related to his leadership in motorsport safety. In 1996, he was awarded the Motorsport Industry Association Achievement Award and also the Mario Andretti High Performance Award for Medicine. In 1997, he was given the R.A.C. Centennial Prince Michael of Kent Award. In 1998, he received the British Racing and Sports Car Club Silver Trophy for services to racing and in 1999, the Autosport Gregor Grant Trophy for Outstanding Contribution to Motor Sport. In December of 2006, on behalf of the FIA Institute for Motor Sport Safety, he received the Society of American Engineering (S.A.E.) Award for Excellence in Safety Engineering. In July 2007, he was unanimously elected to membership in the International Council of Motorsport Sciences (ICMS) and to a position as Honorary Member of the Board. Remarkable, in July of 2008, he received the Motor Industry Association Award for Outstanding Contribution to Motorsport Industry in the House of Lords in London, England.
In his professional career as a neurosurgeon, Professor Sid Watkins has been recognized as an outstanding surgeon, scholar, teacher and leader with a determined commitment to excellence which facilitated expert care to those injured in motorsport virtually anywhere in the world. It was recognition for the combination of world leadership in neurosurgery and in the development of motorsport medicine and safety that Sid Watkins was awarded the prestigious Order of the British Empire at the Jubilee Honours Ceremonies by the Queen in June 2002.
Professor Sid Watkins is unquestionably the leader of the past quarter century in the development of motorsport medicine and safety not only in Formula 1 races in Canada but across the country in all forms of racing.
Image via The Telegraph