Medicine in the fast lane
A neurosurgeon who transformed Formula 1’s safety record
- By: Edmund Farrar
Formula 1 once had a reputation for being one of the most dangerous sports in the world. It used to be common for a large proportion of drivers to be killed or severely injured by the end of each racing season. One of the pioneers in making the sport safer was motorsport enthusiast Professor Eric Sidney Watkins, who was head of neurosurgery at the London Hospital. Watkins began as a volunteer doctor at motorsport events but went on to become instrumental in introducing a host of safety measures and setting up a research body focused on protecting the welfare of drivers.
The watershed moment is said to have come 20 years ago when Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna, a close friend of Watkins, was killed during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. The three times world champion hit a concrete barrier at 135 mph (216 kph), having lost control of