Sebastien Bourdais had a big crash in testing at Barcelona on Wednesday. Happily he was unhurt but he may have dealt a blow to his standing in the team if the damage to the new STR3 forces the team to delay its introduction.
Major crashes can affect F1 drivers in different ways. Even though drivers regularly walk away from even the most shocking crashes these days, the effect it has on their state of mind can be a lot harder to judge.
Bourdais in 2008, Hamilton in 2007
Lewis Hamilton found himself in a similar situation to Bourdais when he crashed his McLaren MP4/22 in pre-season testing last year, leaving McLaren short one of their new chassis in the run-up to the new season. Test driver Pedro de la Rosa said:
It’s been a setback because it slows us down right in the middle of the off-season. We have lost several days and we have to get them back quickly.
Hamilton bounced back but Bourdais’ situation is a little trickier, especially if the team are no longer able to ready the new car in time for its planned début at the Turkish Grand Prix. The team is up for sale, and Bourdais will want the new owners to consider him an asset to the team rather than a liability.
The consequences for Bourdais may be no more than political but there are plenty of examples of F1 drivers whose career paths changed for the worst after major crashes in which they were injured.
JJ Lehto and Karl Wendlinger both returned to the cockpit after big accidents in 1994 – Lehto suffering neck injuries twice, and Wendlinger going into a coma – but their F1 careers did not last much longer.
Olivier Panis was challenging for wins in his Prost early in 1997 before breaking his legs in a crash at Montreal. How much of his subsequent dip in form was down to that crash, and how much was down to the inferior machinery he had at his disposal, is difficult to separate – but likely it was a little of each.
Ralf Schumacher suffered back injuries in 2003 and 2004 forcing him to miss races – the latter at Indianapolis (above). He stopped winning races and his career slipped into a downward trajectory.
Formula 1 cars have become so strong in recent years that seeing drivers injured in any way is thankfully becoming a rarer sight. Michael Schumacher walked away from a gigantic crash in testing at Monza in 2004 which could well have been around the time he first considered retiring.
Last year’s biggest accident by far was Robert Kubica’s at Montreal.
The Pole was completely uninjured and given that I thought it strange at the time that he didn’t race in the following event at Indianapolis. The explanation given was that if he suffered another severe crash within such a short space of time it could have a particularly adverse affect on him.
It certainly didn’t seem to have affected Kubica once he got back in the cockpit. He matched his best qualifying result of the season at Magny-Cours next time out…