On November 22nd, 2008, Red Bull Racing driver Mark Webber sustained a broken leg after colliding with a car while taking part in the cycling event for his own Tasmania Challenge. Webber was airlifted to hospital where he underwent surgery to have a pin fitted, and since then the Australian has been working hard to ensure he will be able to compete in his home grand prix on March 29th. Today, Webber announced he will return to the cockpit on February 11th to test the new RB5, Red Bull’s 2009 challenger.
Being a fit and healthy athlete, the pace of Webber’s recovery isn’t really a surprise, and looking back over the years at other accidents which have caused injury to Formula One drivers, Mark is no exception. In 1999, Michael Schumacher impacted the tyre barrier at the Stowe corner at Silverstone. The German world champion sustained a break similar to Webber’s and was forced to sit out part of the season. However, despite receiving such an injury, Schumacher only missed six races and returned for the final two rounds of the championship. Michael took second place in each, and impressively claimed pole position in both.
Back in 1997, Oliver Panis endured a big accident at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Driving down the gentle curve on back part of the circuit between the armco barriers, Panis’s Prost hit the wall on the right before moving over to the left for a second impact. Both of Olivier’s legs were broken and the race was red flagged after the drivers had decided they no longer wanted to drive by the scene with Panis receiving trackside medical attention. Seven races later, Olivier was sitting in his Prost on the grid for the Luxembourg Grand Prix (held at the Nurburgring). Panis qualified eleventh and finished sixth.
Not all injuries were so quick to heal, and perhaps it is a sign of the times when you look further back in history and realise that some drivers didn’t recover as well from damaged limbs. At the 1969 US Grand Prix, Graham Hill sustained two breaks in his legs while driving the often described fragile Lotus 49B. To Hill’s advantage, the US event was the penultimate race of the year and so the Briton only missed one race. However, Hill’s recovery didn’t go so well and when Graham was seen testing the new Lotus 49C, he was clearly in discomfort and needed help getting into and out of the car. Hill never really raced the same again, perhaps in part due to the lack of confidence from those around him, and also in part to the damage he had done to his legs.
However, Webber will have received the very best medical care while he was recovering over Christmas, and the Australian seems determined to get back in the car as soon as possible. The new Red Bull RB5 will be launched on February 9th at Jerez (weather permitting, I presume), and Webber is upbeat and determined not to let this setback inflict on his season.
I’m going to have a crack at driving the car on 11th February, and then we’ll see how that goes. If it goes really well, I’ll be back in on 13th February. Then I’ve got three more tests – Jerez, Valencia and then our last test in Barcelona, with all the teams together – before we go off to Australia.
I’m going alright now. We’re coming out of the back part of the worst of it, and hopefully I won’t be on the crutches too much longer. Can start to test the muscle and the soft tissue in the back of the leg a little bit more when I get more confidence to walk on the leg.
It won’t affect how I drive my car. It affects my conditioning – I need a little bit more preparation, but by the time I get to Melbourne I should be in really good nick again. Mark Webber.
For the upcoming test later in the week, it is presumed that team mate Sebastian Vettel will drive, with the possibility of Scuderia Toro Rosso driver and former Red Bull tester Sebastien Buemi sitting in for Webber in the second chassis.