Sid Watkins

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 24 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7028
  1. Anne Gulland, journalist, London, UK
  1. annecgulland{at}

The Formula One doctor who made racing safer

Sutton images/Corbis

In his memoir of his career as the Formula One doctor, Sid Watkins describes how he urged the racing driver Ayrton Senna not to drive on the circuit at Imola in Italy, the day after Roland Ratzenburger was killed in practice and two days after another promising young driver, Rubens Barichello, was injured.1

Watkins told Senna: “You have been world champion three times, you are obviously the quickest driver. Give it up and let’s go fishing.” Senna replied: “Sid, there are certain things over which we have no control. I cannot quit, I have to go on.” Hours later the charismatic Brazilian was killed on the track.

Senna’s death deeply affected Watkins, a professor of neurosurgery. Manish Pandey, an orthopaedic surgeon and screenwriter who got to know Watkins when researching the film Senna, says that Watkins and the charismatic Brazilian enjoyed a father and son relationship. They stayed at each other’s houses, knew each other’s families, and went fishing together on Senna’s estate in Brazil.

The two became close when Watkins, known on the circuit as “Prof,” treated Senna for Bell’s palsy in 1984. …

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