LONDON, Sept 13, 2012 (AFP) - Formula One stars on Thursday paid tribute to the sport's former medical delegate Sid Watkins, who has died at the age of 84.
Watkins helped save the lives of Ferrari's Didier Pironi at the 1982 German Grand Prix, Jordan's Rubens Barrichello at Imola in 1994, and McLaren's Mika
Hakkinen at Adelaide in 1995 during an incident-packed 26-year career as Formula One's on-track surgeon.
The neurosurgeon's bid to improve medical facilities in Formula One also dramatically cut the number of deaths and serious injuries, and the sport's
leading figures responded to Watkins' passing with a series of tributes.
Confirming Watkins' death, McLaren Group chairman and close friend Ron Dennis said: "Today the world of motor racing lost one of its true greats.
"No, he wasn't a driver. No, he wasn't an engineer. No, he wasn't a designer. He was a doctor and it's probably fair to say he did more than anyone, over many years, to make Formula One as safe as it is today.
"Many drivers and ex-drivers owe their lives to his careful and expert work, which resulted in the massive advances in safety levels that today's drivers possibly take for granted."
Liverpool-born Watkins, who worked in the sport from 1978 to 2004, was a popular figure on the F1 circuit and Barrichello wrote on Twitter: "It was Sid
Watkins that saved my life in Imola 94.great guy to be with,always happy...tks for everything u have done for us drivers.RIP."
Bruno Senna, whose uncle and three-time world champion Ayrton was tended to by Watkins following his fatal crash at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, added: "RIP Prof. Sid Watkins. Sad news for us who stay behind."
F1's current medical delegate, Gary Hartstein, who learned his trade for seven years under Watkins, said: "For a long time I wanted to call him every
time I had to make a decision. Then I just started thinking, 'What would he do in this situation?'
"And finally, for better or for worse, I realised I was doing just what he'd do -- but probably not as well.
"When I told him this a few years ago, he smiled and said, 'Of course, old boy! You've had a bloody great teacher!'
"He kinda had a big place in my life for a long time. Just about the most extraordinary person I've known."
World governing body the FIA also paid tribute to Watkins' work. "It's a real day of sadness for the FIA family and the whole automobile community," said FIA president Jean Todt in a statement.
"Sid was loved and respected by everyone who knew him and worked with him. We will always be grateful for the long-lasting improvements that he brought to our sport."
Watkins, who also had a full-time job at Whitechapel Hospital in London, worked tirelessly to improve safety in the cockpit, on the track, and the
medical support at circuits alongside the likes of Britain's triple world champion Sir Jackie Stewart and FIA president Max Mosley.
During his time as medical delegate, he witnessed at first hand the deaths of drivers such as Sweden's Ronnie Peterson, who died after an accident at
Monza in Italy in 1978, and Senna at Imola.