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Analysis
Formula E Shanghai E-Prix

The rise of the racing driver injury caused by cockpit constraints

While safety in motorsport has continued to improve, there remains an aspect which has failed to be addressed, and worryingly, has grown into a bigger problem. A driver on the receiving end of the injury, Sam Bird, gives his views on the issue as he makes his return this weekend

Sam Bird, NEOM McLaren Formula E Team

The Shanghai E-Prix double-header this weekend will mark the return of Sam Bird to Formula E, having been forced to sit out racing for a month due to a broken hand.

The McLaren driver suffered the break in his left hand having crashed at Sainte-Devote in practice ahead of the Monaco E-Prix – becoming the latest driver to join a growing list that have suffered a similar fate.

In the last two years alone there having been several drivers across multiple disciplines who have suffered broken hands, to the point that it has now become the predominant injury in motorsport.

Both Formula 1’s Daniel Ricciardo and Formula E’s Robin Frijns required operations and a recovery period of approximately two months after crashes at Zandvoort and Mexico City respectively.

And although not sidelined, Fernando Alonso admitted to racing with broken bones in his hand after suffering a crash during qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix in 2022.

Bird himself was already forced to miss the Formula E season finale the same year after breaking his hand in London, the same bone he then broke again in Monaco, and believes a combination of factors is causing the increased number of injuries.

Sam Bird, McLaren

Sam Bird, McLaren

Photo by: Andreas Beil

“I think the steering wheel design, cockpit layout, no power steering [in Formula E], all these three things combined mean our hands can get almost karate-chopped by these firm carbon fibre wheels,” Bird tells Autosport in Shanghai.

“I’ve tried to watch the replay of my crash and I can’t freezeframe it quick enough. The steering wheel goes from left-hand down to it being completely the other way within one frame.

“So I don’t know where my hands goes, I don’t know what it hits, and it was the same in London. I don’t know what broke my hand, whether it’s the cockpit or it’s the steering wheel.”

Bird believes that power steering “should help”, with Formula E’s Gen4 machine set to have the technology when it’s introduced for the 2026-27 season as the load through the steering of modern racing cars continues to increase.

Having returned to the UK in the wake of his Monaco crash, Bird underwent an operation to the break which consisted of fitting more metal plates to the existing work that had been done after his first incident.

The injury has left him with pins and needles down that side of his hand, which “hasn’t gone since I’ve had the operation because they’ve had to go in there and there’s lots of nerves and they’re putting plates around nerves.”

Sam Bird, McLaren

Sam Bird, McLaren

Photo by: Andreas Beil

“It’s never what you want as a driver, to get an injury and then you worry about how long it’s going to be [to return].

“You know that if you don’t get operated on, it will heal but it will take 6-8 weeks. If you have an operation, [it] is more tricky but then the recovery time can be shorter, so I obviously went for the operation.

“There’s been times when it’s been really sore but now the pain is manageable, under control. I’ve managed hundreds and hundreds of laps on the sim, so we’re good.”

A decision on whether Bird would race in Shanghai was only made on Monday after he completed 200 laps on McLaren’s simulator, which was delayed by three days to offer him as much time as possible to heal.

He added: “If I felt like I wasn’t ready, I would have told the team.”

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