The Man Who Made F1 Not DeadlyS

Old surgeons don’t necessarily lead a life of brown Buicks. This is Sid Watkins, Formula One's first race doctor, and his official red NSX.

It is due to the efforts of Dr. Watkins, a neurosurgeon hired in 1978 by Bernie Ecclestone to serve as Formula One’s race doctor, that motor racing today is not explicitly a blood sport. He described the medical conditions at the beginning of his tenure in a 2002 Car & Driver profile:

It was a shambles. Rescuers, including myself, were prevented by the carabinieri - who struck a Surtees team member in the head with a truncheon - from reaching the accident scene. There was a long delay in getting Ronnie [Peterson] out of his car, and then a further delay of up to 18 minutes before the arrival of the ambulance.

Peterson would succumb to fat embolism a day later, a complication of the fracture of long bones which is perfectly avoidable with timely care.

Six more drivers would die in Formula One cars after Peterson’s death, including Watson’s friend Ayrton Senna, but Watson’s efforts over the decades would result in an infrastructure which turned Formula One from a deadly into a manageably dangerous sport.

Photo Credit: Pascal Rondeau /Allsport