If you’ve ever seen a Formula One race crash, you may remember a seemingly nameless and faceless man emerge from the sidelines to pull the injured driver from his car. The late neurosurgeon Dr. Sid Watkins was that guy.
As the Grand Prix’s top medical and safety official, Watkins not only risked his own life pulling drivers out of fuel-soaked vehicles; he also developed safety innovations that changed what was once considered one of the world’s most dangerous sports forever, from stronger seat belts to puncture-resistant fuel tanks. Nelson Piquet, a driver whom Dr. Watkins revived after a 200-mile-per hour crash, called him “our guardian angel.”
His life was dedicated to eliminating risk, but he also knew he could never conquer it altogether. “There will always be risk in motor racing, as there is in any activity,” said Watkins. “I had a patient once who fell off a bar stool and broke his neck. You’d think that was a safe enough occupation.”
Learn more about Dr. Watkins in his New York Times obituary .