Before he became the face and the leader of F1's on-track medical response team and made a massive push to increase safety, Watkins spent nearly two decades in motorsport, including working in the medical facilities at Brands Hatch and Watkins Glen. After meeting F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone at Watkins Glen in 1978, at time when 13 drivers had died on track since 1968, Ecclestone offered him the job of medical delegate for the series. Not long after taking the job, Ronnie Petersen would die in another on-track accident.
Watkins served in the role for 26 years, the first responder to accidents suffered by drivers like JJ Lehto, Mika Hakkinen, Rubens Barichello, Martin Donnelly and Gerhard Berger. Watkins was involved in helping Williams team principal, Frank Williams, after a car accident in France.
Following the horror of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, where Roland Ratzenberger and his friend Ayrton Senna both lost their lives, Watkins lead in the creation of the FIA Expert Safety Advisory Committee. The doctor can justifiably be credited for helping to lead the way in increasing the sport's safety overall. Watkins retired as the head of the organization, by then renamed the FIA Institute for Motor Sport Safety, in 2004. He carried on as the first president of the institute until 2011, then took up an honorary position. In 2002, Car and Driver did an in-depth piece on "the doctor to the drivers" and his effect on safety in F1, noting that The Professor's legacy includes zero on-track fatalities since Senna's death in 1994.
Autoblog sends its condolences to the Watkins family.