Racing through injury: What Stroll can learn from past cases
After missing Formula 1 testing with a wrist injury sustained in a cycling accident, Lance Stroll is attempting to race through the pain barrier in Bahrain. Here are some tales of inspiration, and caution, of drivers who have attempted hurried comebacks
Motorsport is dangerous. It's an exploit to be taken seriously, and nothing less than peak physical fitness is expected of drivers to reach peak performance.
But motorsport is also a highly competitive business, and the stakes are high. When money has been invested, taking the decision to prioritise health over competition isn't easily made and history is littered with cases of drivers throwing themselves into battle while a long way from being fully fit.
As the world watches Lance Stroll's efforts this weekend to see if the Canadian can exploit the potential of his Aston Martin package while recovering from his wrist injury, Autosport looks back at some noteworthy instances of racers pushing through the pain barrier - sometimes to their own detriment.
The greatest wet weather drive ever?
Jackie Stewart, Nurburgring 1968 - Kevin Turner
Stewart was magnificent on the Nordschleife in 1968, winning by over four minutes despite a broken scaphoid
Photo by: Motorsport Images
“If it had been a dry race, I wouldn’t have won. It might have been too much for me, but in the wet it didn’t really worry me at all.” Jackie Stewart’s modest account of the 1968 German Grand Prix underplays one of the great Formula 1 performances.
Three months before round eight of the championship, Stewart had broken the scaphoid on his right wrist in an F2 practice crash at Jarama. He missed the Spanish and Monaco GPs before finishing fourth on his return in Belgium.
Stewart then managed a victory in a wet Dutch GP and a third in France, so this entry could be about multiple races with injury, but it’s his win at the fearsome Nurburgring that stands out.
Having been treated by Muhammad Ali’s doctor and still wearing his plastic support, Stewart stormed from sixth into an 8.3-second lead on the first 14.2-mile lap. The Scot set a best time of 9m36s on a day no one else bettered 9m51s and his Tyrrell-run Matra took the flag more than four minutes clear of second-placed Graham Hill’s Lotus.
Had it not been for the F2 crash and those missed rounds, Stewart would probably have been 1968 world champion but he’d once again shown all the naysayers to his safety campaign that he truly had inner steel.
The greatest comeback of all?
Niki Lauda, Monza 1976 - Kevin Turner
Lauda had to overcome very real mental fear, as well as excruciating pain, on his F1 return at Monza following his near-death Nurburgring crash
Photo by: David Phipps
Both of Niki Lauda’s F1 comebacks must be regarded as among the finest in motorsport history, but his first must surely be among the greatest in sport.
Lauda’s fiery crash at the Nurburgring on 1 August 1976 almost killed him and left him with serious head and lung injuries. He was famously given the last rites. And yet on 12 September – just six weeks later – he finished fourth in the Italian GP, ahead of the driver (Carlos Reutemann) hired to replace him by Ferrari.
Lauda later admitted to having been scared when he went out for practice at Monza. “Rigid with fear” was how he described it in his autobiography To Hell and Back, so this was a mental challenge as well as a physical one.
Typically, having made a return sooner than anyone thought possible, Lauda dug deep once again and got quicker and quicker on Saturday. He qualified fifth, ahead of both team-mates Reutemann and Clay Regazzoni, and then recovered from a slow start to take his remarkable result. His balaclava was covered in blood where his burns had opened up…
Lauda later demonstrated another kind of bravery by withdrawing from the wet Japanese GP title decider due to the conditions, losing the crown to James Hunt by a single point.
The defiance that led to NASCAR rule changes
Ricky Rudd, Daytona 500 1984 - Charles Bradley
Rudd went on to enjoy a long career after his famous exploits at Daytona in 1984
Photo by: F. Peirce Williams / Motorsport Images
When it comes to racing with an injury, taping your eyelids open so you can see in the corners is as hardcore as it gets.
Ricky Rudd had just got a big break with Bud Moore’s NASCAR Cup Series Ford team in 1984 – swapping rides with Dale Earnhardt – but suffered a huge crash in the season-opening Bud Clash at Daytona. Amazingly, all he hit was the ground in the 200mph-plus shunt, as his Thunderbird somersaulted nine times.
Rudd didn’t break any bones but suffered facial injuries and torn cartilage in his ribcage as the bottom of his seat had snapped, and he was rag-dolled around inside the car, with effectively only the lapbelt restraining him.
Rudd returned to the track in the backup car for Daytona 500 practice just two days later, but recalls “when I got into a corner, I couldn’t see, it was like lights-out”.
Moore suggested it was his swollen eye sockets that were causing the problem, and Rudd says: “We couldn’t get the swelling down with ice, I was like a fighter who’d had the crap beaten out of him.
“I don’t recall whether it was my idea or his, but it didn’t require a lot of thinking! Somebody got some scissors and cut up some duct tape and taped the swollen eyes up – not so much the eyelids, more the excess skin above [and below] it.
“We got it stuck, put the helmet on and it worked. It didn’t hurt and it fixed it. We got some fancier tape, medical tape, for the 500.”
With his taped-up face, Rudd finished a lapped seventh in Daytona and won next time out at Richmond. When asked if he’d considered sitting out those races to recover, Rudd replied: “I wasn’t going to do that because we still had to eat.”
During the next race weekend, at Rockingham, the problem returned despite his facial swelling having subsided, and Rudd was diagnosed with concussion at the School of Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University. It directly led to NASCAR installing medical clearance protocols for its drivers.
Repeated tigerish drives against adversity
Vincenzo Sospiri - James Newbold
Sospiri wore a brace on his wrist as he charged to second in the 1994 Estoril F3000 race - it wasn't to be his first or last experience of racing injured
Photo by: Sutton Images
Vincenzo Sospiri had plenty of form for driving around injuries. Twice, the Italian finished on the International Formula 3000 podium with broken bones, and in 1999 he raced a full season in the SportsRacing World Cup taking pain-killing injections after a shoulder injury sustained at the end of the previous year - before taking an operation that limited his movement and prompted his retirement from racing.
"I drove with one hand basically for all of 1999," he admits.
It began in 1988 in Formula Ford, when Sospiri hurt his neck at Donington Park.
"They checked it in, it was fine," he recalls. "I said it was hardly fine because it was so painful, so I went back to Italy, X-rayed it properly and they found the fourth vertebrae was broken. They said, ‘You need a neck collar, to not move for one month’."
But Sospiri was out racing the very next weekend at Thruxton. After using a neck brace for practice and qualifying, he removed it for the race "because it was so uncomfortable, it was impossible to move". Remarkably, he capped the year with victory in the Formula Ford Festival.
Fast forward to 1993 and Sospiri qualified eighth for the Hockenheim F3000 round with a broken hand after a kerb strike. David Coulthard's broken gearbox and a late engine failure for Gil de Ferran helped his Mythos Reynard climb through to third. But his performance at Estoril in 1994 for Super Nova was even better.
Nursing another broken hand after getting caught up in a first corner crash at Spa - "I hit the car in front of me with my front-right and then basically the shock of the tyres came into my hand and broke my hand in three places" - it wasn't certain that Sospiri would be able to race, and Allan McNish tested in his place. But, from eighth on the grid, admitting he'd been trying to save himself for the race in qualifying, Sospiri put in crucial passes on Guillaume Gomez and title contender Franck Lagorce as he moved through the pack to finish second only to eventual champion Jean-Christophe Boullion.
"Even if it was very painful, I used to cope with it," reflects Sospiri, who went on to claim the F3000 title in 1995. "I feel it, I’m not stupid. It’s hard, but I could cope with it.
"I think it’s more to do with your head, how strong mentally you are. When the race comes and the visor goes down, the pain is not there anymore."
Gritty drive yields Flying Scot a point
Colin McRae, Rally Catalunya 2002 - Tom Howard
His injured hand still bandaged, McRae resolutely refused to give up and stormed to a points finish on the fast Spanish asphalt
Photo by: Ralph Hardwick
Despite facing the prospect that further damage to a badly broken little finger would result in amputation, Colin McRae defied doctors' orders in the search of World Rally Championship points in 2002.
The 1995 world champion found himself in a race to be fit for Rally Catalunya following a crash on the penultimate stage at the previous round in Corsica, which his Ford boss Malcolm Wilson described as “genuinely scary”.
McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist slammed sideways into a tree at more than 50mph, the impact fierce enough to snap a solid pipe in the Ford Focus’ roll cage. While Grist escaped with a sore head, McRae suffered a slight concussion, bruised ribs and leg, and a severely broken little finger, which had become trapped between the steering wheel and dashboard. He was airlifted to hospital in Ajaccio, where surgeons sewed tendons back into the finger and reset the bone.
“I expect to be back at Catalunya,” said McRae at the time. “The doctors have told me I have to rest but I have to be back for that one really. It is bad enough losing three points in Corsica but I can’t afford to lose any more. The problem is the flesh has been damaged so badly it's just not got enough to knit together and the danger is, if I damage that again, it won't knit and that means taking it off.”
Finger heavily bandaged up, McRae elected to soldier on. His Ford team fitted a second gear lever, to the left of the steering wheel, to allow the Scot to steer the car with his good right hand and change gear with the injured left.
Driving neat and tidily after admitting the car would be “difficult to catch” should it go sideways, McRae held an impressive seventh for the majority of the rally, before inheriting a point for sixth after Sebastien Loeb crashed out of fourth on the final day. The rally was dominated by Peugeot’s Gilles and Herve Panizzi.
“It’s like a victory,” said McRae. “I didn’t think I’d get anything but we’ve ended up with a point for me and three for Ford, which is good.”
While McRae’s battle against pain was rewarded with a point, the same couldn’t be said for Hyundai’s Freddy Loix earlier that season. The Belgian broke his left ankle in a crash in Monte-Carlo but elected to contest Rally Sweden two weeks later walking on crutches. Remarkably, Loix found himself sitting fifth on the final morning before a front suspension failure resulted in retirement.
Hurried operation keeps MotoGP title chase alive
Jorge Lorenzo, Assen 2013 - Lewis Duncan
Lorenzo gritted his teeth to take fifth on his Yamaha two days after breaking his collarbone
Photo by: Kevin Wood / Motorsport Images
Motorcycle racing is famed for its competitors being made of sterner stuff. Mick Doohan's valiant return at the penultimate round of the 1992 season after nearly losing his leg in a crash at Assen, Valentino Rossi's front-row qualifying result at the 2017 Aragon GP just over 20 days after breaking his leg and Marc Marquez's stunning comeback win in Germany in 2021 a year after his career-threatening arm injury are all worthy contenders.
But it's triple MotoGP world champion Jorge Lorenzo's Assen 2013 heroics that takes our pick here. The then-Yamaha rider was just seven points off the championship lead when he crashed heavily in a wet Thursday practice session and broke his left collarbone.
The pain forced Lorenzo and his Yamaha team to hire a private plane and head to Barcelona for surgery that day. Having had his shoulder plated, Lorenzo headed back to the Netherlands to contest Saturday's Dutch GP. Starting from 12th, having secured a Q2 slot by virtue of his best time from free practice, Lorenzo gritted through immense pain to bring his M1 home in fifth.
Lorenzo's luck ran out at the following round in Germany when a practice crash damaged the plate in his left shoulder and ruled him out of the race. But it did nothing to diminish "one of the craziest things ever" to happen to him in his storied MotoGP career.
Dakar determination delivers miracle win
Toby Price, Dakar Rally 2019 - Andrew van Leeuwen
Price's victory on the 2019 Dakar came before another much-needed operation
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
Toby Price’s 2019 Dakar Rally hopes should have been completely dashed by a bit of friendly fire with Matthias Walkner four weeks out from the event.
The KTM team-mates clashed during testing in the Middle East leaving Price with a freshly-broken right scaphoid. He flew straight to Barcelona to be operated on by surgeon to the biking stars Dr Xavier Mir, after which he was told in no uncertain terms that the pin in his wrist wouldn’t survive Dakar.
But Price decided to give it a go anyway. Armed with a custom carbon fibre wrist brace, and limited to paracetamol due to the doping rules, off he went.
The pain was near unbearable from the start and Price went close to throwing in the towel at the end of every stage. What proved to be a saviour was a makeshift cruise control device constructed using a rubber band from the battery cage. That allowed him to rest the wrist on the transport stages. After two weeks of struggling on the bike, and then struggling to sleep at night due to the pain, Price somehow found himself heading into the final stage in contention to win. And when Pablo Quintanilla crashed on that final stage, the miracle was complete.
The win came at a cost, though. The screw had effectively become a windscreen wiper during the event, wearing away the bone in Price’s wrist. That meant more surgery the moment he landed back in Australia.
Record-breaking Supercars charge against the odds
Shane van Gisbergen, Sandown 2021 - Andrew van Leeuwen
Van Gisbergen stormed through the pack from 17th with his still recovering collarbone in one of the great Supercars performances
Photo by: Edge Photographics
The list of superhuman drives from Shane van Gisbergen in recent years is long. And right at the very top is Sandown 2021.
Just a fortnight out from the second round of the season, the overwhelming title favourite took a tumble from his mountain bike and broke his collarbone. He was rushed to hospital for surgery and then immediately began an aggressive hyperbaric chamber treatment programme in a bid to be fit enough to get through Sandown.
The team arrived in Melbourne with van Gisbergen’s car slightly modified, the steering column moved downwards to limit how much movement he required. Between that and pain medication, van Gisbergen felt comfortable enough during Friday practice. But, when he qualified just 17th for Saturday’s opener, it all felt like a huge risk. What if he copped another hit in the rough and tumble of the midfield and did more damage?
Of course that’s not how it played out. The injured van Gisbergen put in one of the all-time great Supercars drives to charge through the field and win. Before that, nobody had won an ATCC/Supercars race from further back than 14th on the grid.
Van Gisbergen went on to win both races on the Sunday as well. And, when he went back to the doctors for scans the following week, they found three broken ribs that had slipped under the radar.
When it doesn't go so well
Jason Watt, Helsinki 1996 - James Newbold
The ITC field take the start at Helsinki in 1995 - a track that took no prisoners, Watt shunted heavily there the following year while carrying hidden injuries
Photo by: Sutton Images
Trying to drive his Alfa Romeo 155 V6 around the tricky streets of Helsinki with a broken hand and collarbone at the 1996 International Touring Car Championship round was, Jason Watt acknowledges, "about the most silly thing that I’ve ever done in racing". The Dane had endured a difficult baptism upon stepping up to the short-lived Class 1 replacement for the DTM after winning the Opel Euroseries, with a ninth place at the Nurburgring the best result of a tricky first three rounds. And the JAS Motorsport driver's prospects weren't improved heading to the bumpy Finnish harbour-side track after injuring himself in a cycling accident.
"I sort of hid that from everybody," recalls Watt, who was paralysed in a motorcycle accident in 1999 when on the cusp of Formula 1. "It was a little bit hard to drive the car, and I didn’t tell anybody."
But he was heading into the warm-up in a confident mood after the electronic differential that he'd been using was switched to a mechanical unit the same as stablemates Gabriele Tarquini and Stefano Modena. And sure enough, on his first lap out of the pits "the car was just transformed". Keen to show his 20th position on the grid wasn't reflective of his pace, Watt turned up the wick.
"On my first lap, I was P5 or something and I thought, ‘I’m not even trying’ and I thought, ‘I’m going to show them who’s the man’ and half a lap later I was in the barrier!" he says. "I had an oversteer moment, which normally you should have saved, I didn’t have the strength in my hand to steer myself out of trouble so I brushed – that’s maybe the wrong word! – I hit the concrete wall to an effect that it totalled the car and I never got to do the race."
Ironically, he suffered the same fate the following year when Formula 3000 made its one and only appearance in Finland. Another practice shunt as he spun backwards into the wall meant his car was again too badly damaged to race.
Watt became a winner in F3000 before his single-seater aspirations were dashed
Photo by: Sutton Images
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