The fruitful engineering talents of Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth, the irrepressible spirit of Gilles Villeneuve or the pioneering medical work of Sid Watkins? Whichever way votes had been cast, the Hall of Fame’s latest Formula 1 inductee would have been warmly received. It’s doubtful that anyone other than Watkins would have triggered quite such an emotional response, however.
Ron Dennis was on hand to present the award. The McLaren boss is seldom lost for words, but his voice faltered at first mention of Watkins’s candidature. The former F1 medical delegate, who worked in GP racing from the late 1970s and died in 2012, aged 84, was, Dennis said, “a really dear friend”.
Once Watkins’s induction had been confirmed, his widow Susan and son Alistair stepped up to the stage. “I’m very proud indeed of his legacy,” Susan said. “He was a remarkable man. The holy trinity for Sid was the safety of the drivers, circuits and cars.”
Alistair added, “His main career was outside motor sport, with NHS politics and neurosurgery, but weekends meant F1 – and that was his passion. He was everyone’s friend and became famous for his statutory response whenever somebody had a problem – have a large whisky and a couple of aspirin, then go to bed.”
Watkins is perhaps best known for rapid interventions that saved the lives of Martin Donnelly, at Jerez in 1990, and Mika Häkkinen at Adelaide in 1995. “His contribution was immense,” Dennis said, “but it was the behind-the-scenes Sid that was so amazing. I recall a story of a family visiting Susan and Sid, for a day’s angling. Nothing was caught, but Sid had a salmon in the refrigerator. He was about to start cleaning it when a six-year-old girl walked into the kitchen and asked what he was doing. Sid replied, ‘I’m about to dissect this fish.’ The young girl was completely focused on this, then went back to her mother and said, ‘I’m going to be a doctor.’ As time moved on, she passed her A-levels and got into Oxford Medical School. In her personal statement she wrote, ‘It all started with a fish.’ That was my daughter, who is now a doctor. It was the way he mentored her that epitomised Sid’s care for people at all levels.
“Every solution had a glass of whisky in it – often more than one. We would frequently exceed our alcoholic threshold and I would get such a telling-off from Susan for influencing him…” Simon Arron