Cheaper by the injury
Every injury that kept drivers out of Formula 1 since 2000
||Jonathan Simon | February 12, 2019The Simon Racing Report - Sports Journalist
The last time I wrote a column in February 2018, Lewis Hamilton was a four time world champion, Arsène Wenger was still the father of Arsenal, DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t on the Warriors, Porzingis and Luka weren’t something, iRacing still had a world championship grand prix series, Stephen Hawking and Mac Miller were still alive, and, House of Cards was still on the air.
That was just under 12 months ago. Since then, Sebastian Vettel is still a four time world champion, Éric Boullier paid his staff with chocolate Freddo Frogs, there was a period where Kimi Räikkönen was astonishingly Ferrari’s last race winner, pole position sitter, podium finisher and world champion, and still is three of those things, no Alonso and F1, Kubica is returning, Ricciardo is at Renault, Leclerc at Ferrari, and Force India went into administration. This meaning Vijay Mallya has to leave his virtual pit wall at home, to his lounge room for life’s next challenge of avoiding extradition.
It’s the first week of content for the year, there will be columns, there will be podcasts, there will be analysis videos, tutorial videos and SO SO SO, MUCH, MORE.
On a different note, I recently had shoulder surgery this past week to repair an injury and it got me thinking, what were some notable injuries in Formula 1 this millennium that kept drivers out of action? The most dramatic, life-threatening, ridiculous, odd or funny injuries, conspiracy theory injuries, fake injuries – all since 2000. What’s the worst way to kick off my column for 2019? A category countdown list. So let’s do it…
The linkages (injuries linked to other notable events)
Eddie Irvine (Austria 2000) and Luciano Burti (Belgium 2001)
Nothing to write home about, but there’s a connection here between these two. Playboy Eddie Irvine pulled out of the 2000 Austrian Grand Prix with appendicitis – surprisingly, not an STD. And of course, this led to the debut of Luciano Burti. Burti had a slew of incidents over his F1 career leading up to next year’s Belgian Grand Prix, where ironically both he and Eddie Irvine crashed spectacularly at Blanchimont, Spa. It’s one of those incidents you can have a laugh at while sim racing, but never in real life.
Burti thankfully survived the crash however suffered serious injuries and was replaced by Tomáš Enge.
The Ralf Schumacher concussions (Testing/Italy 2003 and USA 2004)
Two consecutive years, two concussions, not healthy. Few remember Ralf Schumacher’s accident during testing ahead of the 2003 Italian Grand Prix. Ralf attempted to qualify the car at the race weekend just weeks later, but was replaced by Marc Gené due to after effects from the concussion. I’m unsure how strict the FIA is with allowing drivers to race these days. It’s hard to find the regulations as there isn’t much of an NFL concussion protocol implemented by the FIA. I doubt Schumacher would have been allowed to race knowing the dangers of his injury.
2004 though was the beginning of the end for Michelin. Both Fernando Alonso and Ralf suffered tyre failures at Indianapolis in consecutive laps. Ralf’s incident was quite jaw dropping at the time. You sat there, glad to see him moving slightly, especially since the radio was destroyed so there was no communication to the pit wall. He ended up missing the next six races, there’s a chance he missed those races waiting for the marshals to attend to the car, but I think it was most likely for concussion. When you watch the race back, it was seriously over a minute until the first marshal got to the car, hilarious.
Once again, he was replaced by Marc Gené. Where does Michelin fall into all of this? They were out of the sport by 2007, with rock bottom occurring at the 2005 United States Grand Prix. Does anyone need reminding? 6 non-Michelin cars started the race out of 20.
The odd thing about Suzuka is that you find places to crash that you didn’t think were possible. The circuit is that narrow. Those with open wheel experience will understand how loose the car becomes at the final corner under power application – downhill portion of the circuit. Add to the fact you’re trying to minimise lap time to the line. The accident kept Glock out for the season with injury, paving way for the debut of Kamui Kobayashi, one of my favourite drivers of all time.
If you think carefully, what if Toyota had stayed in the sport for 2010? Or what if Stefan GP actually funded and ran Toyota’s 2010 cars? Much akin to Brawn GP and Honda’s 2009 cars. Were those 2010 cars quick enough to win the championship? Would Kobayashi, Trulli or Glock be a world champion? What a world that would have been.
Sergio Pérez (Monaco 2011)
There’s a hidden story from Sergio’s 2011 qualifying crash in Q3 that sidelined him for two races with concussion. This crash led to the beginning of Lewis Hamilton’s poor 2011 season. An abysmal season that has most certainly taught him lessons into now becoming one of the greatest drivers of all time. McLaren’s Hamilton led Q1 and Q2, this was a point in time where no ‘non-Red Bull’ driver had taken a pole position that season. You could feel it, Lewis magic was coming, he was feeling it, he was on it that day, it was the typical ‘Lewis on fire’ day that we still see today. It happened though, a Lewis mistake when it mattered most just killed my hopes. Then came the Pérez crash.
Qualifying was red flagged for over 30 minutes, meaning track conditions worsened. Just over two minutes left, nobody improved their times. Hamilton started from 9th and was involved in what I like to call ‘the Ali G race’. It was all downhill from there for 2011.
Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Canada 2001)
Jordan's Heinz-Harald Frentzen was at the tail end of a rollercoaster F1 career when injury leading up to the 2001 Canadian Grand Prix forced him out of his seat for the race. This wasn’t the end, we mentioned he raced for Eddie Jordan right?
So that comes with controversy, including disagreements between the pair amidst Jordan’s struggles to keep the team financially afloat, even though Eddie once said he’d never argued with Frentzen, I call bullshit. The biggest life lesson I’ve learnt listening to Eddie Jordan ramble? Never open your mouth. I’m pretty sure he’d confirmed Frentzen would stay on for the 2002 season just weeks prior, then he was fired ahead of his home race at the Hockenheimring.
I love a conspiracy. I’m still not sure what happened in those weeks, maybe one of the two should’ve slept on something they shouldn’t have said. Maybe Eddie had a dream one night that Ricardo Zonta would win a race for Jordan and bring in Brazilian sponsors. At the end of the day, it was a short burst of a fracas that was quickly forgotten.
The Juan Pablo Montoya shoulder injury (Bahrain 2005)
Ever had that ridiculous injury by a work colleague that sounds too ridiculous to be true? Or their grandfather died for the 9th time that year? How about Shinji Kagawa having his stomach pumped after eating too much and missing a match? Enes Kanter eating too many burgers on cheat day and being out with ‘illness’ the next day? Sammy Sosa missing weeks to injury due to sneezing. This next one, I hope, will be untouched at the top of the list of the stupidest F1 injuries of all time.
Juan Pablo Montoya always lacked fitness and that could have been one of the necessary competitive advantages he needed in Formula 1. Picking up tennis to improve his fitness was a fun choice. Fun enough for me to make fun of how ridiculous the injury sounds. But we all love Montoya’s sense of humour, he even admitted that "it sounds kind of dumb"
. Just to think if this was ever a question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire with Jeremy Clarkson.
“Juan Pablo Montoya missed two races in the 2005 Formula 1 season, after injuring his shoulder doing what?”
Slapping another driver in the face after free practice one
Driving to the circuit, reaching into the backseat for a Subway 6 inch meatball sub
Bumping into a camera man in the paddock
It might even have to be the million dollar question. It’s that difficult to answer.
Jacques Villeneuve / Robert Kubica switch (Hungary 2006)
Michael Schumacher and Robert Kubica both made similar debuts. Incidents kept the driver they each replaced out for multiple races. If I told you Bertrand Gachot and Jacques Villeneuve were both replaced by the two respectively, but one was an on track incident and the other was off track, no, the off track incident wasn’t Jacques.
Villeneuve felt concussion like symptoms after his crash during the 2006 German Grand Prix and decided to sit out the following Hungarian Grand Prix. After Kubica impressed, this turned out to be the last moment of the 1997 world champion’s career. You know, Villeneuve and Lewis Hamilton’s first three years were so similar, I was a little concerned heading into 2010 for Lewis, but the two careers took a completely different fork in the road for sure.
Christian Klien / Sakon Yamamoto switch (Singapore 2010)
Yamamoto allegedly had food poisoning which kept him out of the 2010 Singapore Grand Prix. But the conspiracy remains unsolved. This probably had more to do with funds and sponsorship than it did anything else. Yamamoto returned to his seat for Japan one round later, however Klien again replaced him for the final two rounds of the season. Does anybody care to solve this conspiracy? No.
Kimi Räikkönen’s back surgery (USA 2013)
Another conspiracy theory incoming? The Kimi/Lotus relationship soured in his last races with the team. A vulgar radio exchange at India, with story braking out that Kimi hadn’t been paid his salary for most, if not the entire season. The funny thing is, once they came to a temporary agreement, Kimi elected to have back surgery and miss the rest of the season. Whether or not the surgery actually occurred is probably not what I’m focusing on. But Shaquille O’Neal did the same thing once, waiting until the season began to elect for toe surgery. Shaq “got hurt on company time, so [he’ll] heal on company time.” Interesting decision Kimi.
Fernando Alonso (Testing 2015)
Fernando Alonso’s second McLaren stint just never worked did it? I believe Alonso’s count of the story whereby he remembers the incident, the steering column failed, a Rosberg “gust of wind” sent him off the race track, and that he had been given medication that caused him to lose consciousness. Oh and that he didn’t wake up thinking it was 1995 and he was a little boy karting, trying to make F1. It would’ve been easier to tell the truth of course. That truth being that he actually had a dream that involved Ron Dennis upon impact. Alonso may have dreamt he woke up in his hotel room with Ron snug and cuddled up, trying to make amends for 2007. Much like Steve Martin and John Candy. That would frighten me.
And that’s my conspiracy theory that you shouldn’t take seriously because it’s probably ... well ... definitely not true at all.
Pascal Wehrlein (Race of Champions 2017)
Pascal injured himself at the Race of Champions after this bizarre mistake. Paul Smith and I discussed on a podcast at the time that maybe Pascal was sitting out from driving the Sauber that year to avoid driving such an awful car. You know what, I’m still on the Pascal Wehrlein bandwagon. My fantasy F1 team name last year: “Pascal Wehrlein 2021 Bandwagon”. I even told him that while he was leaving the track one year at Australia where he just smirked back. I’m going to ride and die on the bandwagon, even if it doesn’t work out.
Takuma Sato (Malaysia 2005)
Remember when Takuma Sato missed the 2005 Malaysian Grand Prix due to a fever? Nobody does. Remember when both BAR cars were banned for two races in 2005 due to regulation issues? Yes. Remember when Takuma Sato won the 2017 Indianapolis 500? FUCK YES.
Nick Heidfeld 2005 (Testing/Italy 2005)
An accident during testing kept Heidfeld out for two races. As he was supposed to return for the Brazilian Grand Prix, he was involved in a cycling crash that injured his shoulder. Hey! That’s my injury, and I feel his pain… Heidfeld has a valid argument to be in the top 3 drivers of all time to never win a grand prix.
Paul Di Resta replaces a sick Felipe Massa (Hungary 2017)
Who cares. I’m just going to plug this column
, and leave this at that.
Ralph Firman (Hungary 2003)
I remember racing at China once online when someone dislodged my rear wing. I had no clue the wing wasn’t attached and I screamed into the barriers as fast as this Ralph Firman crash in 2003. We’re glad nobody suffered life threatening injuries, I’m glad I was racing online. Ralph missed two races and had a fractured heel. I guess it healed well as Zsolt Baumgartner replaced him for a couple races until he returned. And no, that’s not the guy who jumped from space to earth.
Which 2019 driver is the most likely to injure themselves next?
Imagine yourself running the “I’m likely to injure myself anonymous” meeting on a Wednesday night. Let’s go around the table at our shortlist of drivers who attended this meeting.
Lewis Hamilton: “Hi, I’m Lewis Hamilton. I like to ski, try extreme sports, travel, do things that that will likely injure myself, but I do it to have fun.”
Kimi Raikkonen: “Bwoah, I’m Kimi. Ewqbewqnewgwewe lot of shit. Webewguewu my kids reyerbwqvqwev maybe step on the lego thing.”
Kevin Magnussen: “Hi, I’m Kevin. I get into a lot of arguments and fights. I’m intense. I once punched a guy at a bar for bumping into me but nobody knows about it, and I’d appreciate it if it didn’t get out of this meeting either.”
Max Verstappen: “Hi, I’m Max. I was sent to this meeting to complete my community service after shoving some idiot at Brazil last year. I don’t want to be here.”
Take your pick. I choose Kimi. How he hasn’t injured himself doing what he does on a daily basis I will never know.
Felipe Massa (Hungary 2009)
I vividly remember this as I didn’t see it live. I had no TV access while the session was taking place, nowhere else to watch the qualifying session, so I had to resort to following text updates on F1’s live timing screen. The text updates didn’t do Massa’s accident justice, and neither did the accident itself. It’s bizarre that a loose spring kept Massa out for the rest of the season. Which brings the halo discussion back in action. Every time I think of the halo, I don’t think about how safe it is, or how it looks like a thong, I think about this Massa crash from 2009. And how the halo would never keep a driver safe from most loose objects. But it’s better than nothing right?
Robert Kubica (Rallying 2011)
Technically, I’m including this because Kubica was supposed to race in that 2011 season for Lotus. Would Robert have won the races Kimi had won for the team in 2012/2013? What if Kubica had raced alongside Alonso at Ferrari? Would Robert be a world champion by now? The knock on effect of how this would have changed the driver market could have been dramatic. Maybe Hamilton and Kubica are teammates now at Mercedes? What if Hamilton stays at McLaren because Mercedes grab their hands on Robert for 2013? The domino effect.
Fernando Alonso (Australia 2016)
This was my first red flag experience at an F1 race in person. It was odd, weird, but I tell you what? When you’re standing for hours on end not wanting to leave a good spot you found on the circuit, a red flag period in person is so much better than watching on TV. It’s like half time of a football game, enough time to find water, food, get to the bathroom, sit down and not worry about missing any action.
The injury from this raced paved the way for Stoffel Vandoorne to make his Formula 1 debut (and score points) at the next race in Bahrain. A guy I’d raced against in 2012 in sim racing, glad to see him on the world stage, but also glad to see Alonso was back in action the race afterwards.
María de Villota (Testing 2012)
Poor Maria de Villota later passed away from complications of her injuries sustained in this crash during testing. I’m not going to divulge on what happened, but this is an incident that could easily have been avoided, regardless whether or not the investigation implied that she was at fault or not. Why was a truck allowed anywhere near a running F1 car anyway?
Jules Bianchi (Japan 2014)
Along with Maria, the most sombre of anything in this column. I never thought we’d ever have another driver death again after Senna in ‘94. What Bianchi should and could have achieved, will ironically live on through Charles Leclerc I guess. The crash, the gloomy weather, the Ted Kravitz tone of voice running to the incident, the fact you didn’t know Bianchi was even in the incident, you were wondering why Sutil’s car was there the whole time, the no champagne on the podium, the broadcast concluding. I’d never experienced a race weekend with a driver death before. The closest experience I had live was MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli in Malaysia 2011.
I didn’t know what was going on with Jules. I thought he was fine. I told everyone I knew who didn’t watch Formula 1 that it was safe, drivers can’t die anymore. You couldn’t die if you tried. I just wish we could have this one race back, he was going to be such a promising talent.
This one really got to me when it happened.
||Jonathan Simon provides commentary for RaceSpot TV on the iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series. He also owns and hosts his own podcast called The Simon Racing Report which features guests from around the sim racing world, along with writing columns for the website.