Analysis: Montoya Injury Sets Debate

Young men who spend every other weekend racing cars at 300kph are always going to like dangerous sports

Analysis: Montoya Injury Sets Debate

The irony of Juan Pablo Montoya's injury last weekend was that his hairline fracture of the shoulder happened while he was playing a seemingly innocuous game of tennis, according to McLaren.

There are those in the paddock, however, who suspect that the Colombian's absence from Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix had more to do with falling off a motocross bike.

Formula One would not be Formula One without such speculation.

What Montoya's misfortune has done is to raise questions about what teams should allow their highly-paid drivers to get up to in their free time.

They need to satisfy their adrenalin craving and stay fit, and are never going to curl up in an armchair with a good novel, but they also need to stay out of harm's reach.

Serious injuries, in a sport that used to face regular fatalities in the days before safety became the top priority, are mercifully rare on the track.

As Montoya showed, the chance of picking up the sort of injury that prevents a driver from racing is just as likely pursuing leisure activities.

No Limits

Nigel Mansell, World Champion with Williams in 1992, was famously hobbled in a soccer match with the British press in the early 1990s, sending them scurrying off to file their reports with the game in disarray.

Ferrari's seven times World Champion Michael Schumacher, Renault's Championship leader Fernando Alonso and Italian Giancarlo Fisichella are keen soccer players as is Toyota's Jarno Trulli.

All regularly turn out for charity and celebrity matches as well as recreational kick-abouts.

"I'm surprised myself that they let people play football," said BAR's Briton Jenson Button. "I don't play football myself, I'm pretty crap at it, but that's a dangerous sport, pretty full-on, especially if you tackle.

"I think it was a pretty freak injury with Juan Pablo though. I think all drivers will have clauses in their contracts. It depends how strict they are. It's just common sense, more than anything else."

Briton David Coulthard, replaced at McLaren by Montoya at the end of last season, said he never had anything in his contract with the Mercedes-powered team to limit his off-track activities.

"I do ride a motorbike but not off-road," said the Scot, now with Red Bull, the energy drink-owned team whose image is all youthful adventure and extreme sports. There was nothing at all in my contract then, as there isn't in my contract with Red Bull.

"At the end of the day, you're a professional and you've got to be sensible but any one of us could slip in the bath and how could you factor in for that? I don't go base jumping at the moment, although Red Bull would like to send me off," added the Scot.

Base jumping is the extreme sport of parachuting from the tops of very tall man-made or natural objects and Red Bull are involved in sponsoring such events.

"Where do you draw the line?" said Coulthard. "We go bicycling to keep fit because there's only so much you can do in the gym. You've just got to live your life and be sensible.

"(McLaren boss) Ron (Dennis) used to joke that if I wasn't able to race then he wouldn't pay me, which was more than a joke because he wouldn't physically (literally) - it would be the insurance that paid me.

"You are obliged to insure your contract. It's life. You can't expect people not to get injured occasionally."

Pay Drivers

Minardi boss Paul Stoddart said he included clauses in his driver contracts but, since his drivers paid the team to race rather then the other way around, the details were fairly immaterial.

Indeed, he might actually stand to profit more from their absence by getting in another paying driver as cover.

Last season Montoya was jokingly dubbed 'Gordo' (Fatty) by Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, his friend and rival at Ferrari, but he has shed the kilos this year and has looked mean and lean at McLaren.

Coulthard could still not resist a dig at the absent Colombian's expense, however.

"There are very few injuries in the paddock but, as someone else said, when fat people start exercising that's what happens," he grinned.

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