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Barrichello leads drivers' tributes to 'The Prof'


Formula One luminaries queued up to pay tribute yesterday to one of their former colleagues, even though he was never a driver or team official.

Professor Sid Watkins, who died at the age of 84, was grand prix motor racing's doctor-in-chief for more than 30 years. He saved the lives of several drivers and played a leading role in raising safety standards following the death of his friend Ayrton Senna.

But even those irrefutable achievements scarcely reflect the stature of the man and the indelible impression this doctor left on the sport with his unique trackside manner. His commitment to preserving life was matched only by his love of life.

"The Prof", as he was known to the Formula One fraternity, earned their gratitude and affection with his professional skill, personality, wit and wisdom. He was probably the most respected figure in the paddock.

At any time of the day he would find time to indulge his love for conversation and cigars, and in the evening would savour a Scotch. At weekends, he would head for a Scottish riverbank and pursue his passion for fishing.

He once offered remedial pills to a sick journalist, who asked whether it was advisable to take one after having consumed a couple of drinks. The Prof replied sternly: "My dear boy, I would never administer anything that couldn't be taken with alcohol."

Formula One was only a part-time job for Watkins. He was an eminent neurosurgeon at the London Hospital and, following his retirement from the health service, ran his own practice.

At World Championship circuits around the globe, he was head of a high-tech medical operation. When the drivers were on the track, he sat in a response car in the pit lane, ready to attend any accident.

Among those indebted to Watkins' care were Frenchman Didier Pironi, at the 1982 German Grand Prix, Brazil's Rubens Barrichello, at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, and Finland's Mika Hakkinen, the following year, in Australia.

Barrichello was one of the first to post his tribute to The Prof. He tweeted: "It was Sid Watkins that saved my life in Imola '94. Great guy to be with, always happy. Thanks for everything you have done for us drivers. RIP."

Watkins was unable to save Austrian Roland Ratzenberger or Barrichello's compatriot, Senna, on a harrowing weekend at Imola.

He had said to Senna after Ratzenberger's death: "Give it up. Let's go fishing." The three-times world champion, however, insisted he had to continue on his fateful course.