Every Injury That Kept Drivers Out Of Formula 1 Since 2000
Cheaper by the injury
The last time a Formula 1 driver missed a race due to injury, Lewis Hamilton was a three time world champion, Arsène Wenger was still the father of Arsenal, LeBron James wasn’t with the Lakers, Kawhi was still in San Antonio, Stephen Hawking and Mac Miller were still alive, and, House of Cards was still on the air.
That was midway through 2017. Since then, Sebastian Vettel is still a four time world champion, Éric Boullier paid McLaren staff with chocolate Freddo Frogs, there was a brief period where Kimi Räikkönen was Ferrari’s last race winner, pole position sitter, podium finisher and world champion – astonishingly, all at the same time. Fernando Alonso also left and returned to F1, Robert Kubica briefly returned to F1 too, and, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic for COVID-19.
On a different note, I recently injured my shoulder playing basketball and it got me thinking, what were some notable injuries in Formula 1 this millennium that kept drivers out of action? The most dramatic or life-threatening injuries – ridiculous, odd or comical injuries – conspiracy theory injuries, fake injuries – all since 2000. What’s the worst way to write clickbait content? A category countdown list. So let’s do it…
Rumours and Dominoes
Eddie Irvine (Austria 2000) and Luciano Burti (Belgium 2001)
Nothing to write home about, but there’s a connection here between these two. Playboy Eddie Irvine pulled out of the 2000 Austrian Grand Prix with appendicitis – surprisingly, not an STD. This led to the debut of Luciano Burti. The Brazilian had a slew of incidents over his F1 career leading up to the 2001 Belgian Grand Prix. A race which saw him crash spectacularly with Eddie Irvine at Blanchimont, Spa. It’s one of those incidents you can have a laugh at in a video game, but never in real life.
Burti thankfully survived the crash, but suffered serious injuries and was replaced by Tomáš Enge. He unfortunately never returned to F1.
The Ralf Schumacher concussions (testing — Italy 2003 and USA 2004)
Two consecutive years, two concussions. Few remember Ralf Schumacher’s accident during testing ahead of the 2003 Italian Grand Prix. Ralf attempted to qualify the car at the race weekend just weeks later, but was replaced by Marc Gené due to after effects from the concussion.
The FIA have recently been supporting studies related to racing drivers and concussions. With NFL-like concussion protocols, I doubt Schumacher would’ve been allowed to race in 2020 anyway knowing the dangers of his injury.
2004 though was the beginning of the end for Michelin. Both Fernando Alonso and Ralf suffered tyre failures at Indianapolis in consecutive laps. Ralf’s incident was quite jaw dropping at the time. You sat there, glad to see him moving slightly, especially since the radio was destroyed so there was no communication to the pit wall. He ended up missing the next six races.
Some say he missed those races waiting for the marshals to attend to the car – others say it was due to injury. But once again, he was replaced by Marc Gené.
Where does Michelin fall into all of this? They were out of the sport by 2007. Rock bottom was of course the 2005 United States Grand Prix where 6 non-Michelin cars started the race out of 20.
Timo Glock (Japan 2009)
Suzuka is odd, but a good odd. The circuit has character. It’s audacious, ragged, tight and narrow with sublime posture – it’s what a supermodel would be if they could be racing circuits. It’s rewarding when you nail it, but when you crash at a circuit like this, the damage bill is high. What’s exhilarating about Suzuka is that year after year, drivers find new places to crash – even sections of the circuit where you didn’t think it were possible.
The final corner at Suzuka looks a lot simpler than it really is. The car can easily lose stability under power application as it’s a downhill portion of the circuit. Add to the fact you’re trying to minimise lap time to the line. The accident kept Glock out for the season with injury, paving way for the debut of Kamui Kobayashi, one of my favourite drivers of all time.
That was it for Toyota in Formula 1. They were one of the top teams to allocate budget to their 2010 car which never raced. There were rumours that the team finally figured it out, but never got to race the car. What if Stefan GP actually funded and ran Toyota’s 2010 cars? Much akin to Brawn GP and Honda’s 2009 cars. Were those 2010 cars quick enough to win the championship? Would Glock, Kobayashi or Jarno Trulli be a world champion? What a world that would’ve been.
Instead, the 2010 Toyota TF110 became one of the biggest ‘what if’ stories in Formula 1 history.
Sergio Pérez (Monaco 2011)
There’s a hidden story from Sergio’s 2011 Monaco qualifying crash. It left him sidelined him for two races with concussion but the crash also led to the beginning of Lewis Hamilton’s poor 2011 season.
McLaren’s Hamilton led Q1 and Q2, this was a point in time where no non-Red Bull Racing driver had taken a pole position so far that season. You could feel it, Lewis’ magic was coming, it was that typical ‘Lewis on fire’ day that we still see today. It happened though, a Hamilton mistake in Q3 when it mattered most, then came the Pérez crash.
Qualifying was red flagged for over 30 minutes, meaning track conditions worsened. It restarted with just over two minutes to go and nobody improved their times. Hamilton qualified well down the order and was involved in “the Ali G race.” Nobody understood his sense of humour unfortunately and it was all downhill from there for 2011.
Hamilton’s worst season that ended up becoming a growing point for the now 6-time world champion.
Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Canada 2011)
Jordan’s Heinz-Harald Frentzen was at the tail end of a rollercoaster F1 career when injury leading up to the 2001 Canadian Grand Prix forced him out of his seat for the race. This was just the beginning of the end, we mentioned he raced for Eddie Jordan right? So that comes with controversy.
There were disagreements amidst Jordan’s struggles to keep the team financially afloat, even though Eddie once said he’d never argued with Frentzen. I call BS. He already confirmed Frentzen would stay on for the 2002 season just weeks prior, then the German was fired ahead of his home race at the Hockenheimring.
I’m still not sure what happened in the weeks leading up to the race. Maybe one of the two should’ve slept on something they shouldn’t have said. Maybe Eddie had a dream one night that Ricardo Zonta would win a race for Jordan and bring in Brazilian sponsors. At the end of the day, it was a short burst of a fracas that was quickly forgotten.
The Juan Pablo Montoya shoulder injury (Bahrain 2005)
Ever had that ridiculous injury by a work colleague that sounds too ridiculous to be true? Their grandfather died for the 7th time that year? How about Shinji Kagawa having his stomach pumped after eating too much and missing a match? Enes Kanter eating too many burgers on cheat day and out with “illness” the next day? Sammy Sosa missing weeks to injury due to sneezing. This next one (I hope) will be untouched at the top of the list of the silliest F1 injuries of all time.
Juan Pablo Montoya picked up tennis to improve his fitness and found himself injured, in turn sitting out a couple races. Montoya even admitted that the injury “sounds kind of dumb.”
But this is Juan Pablo Montoya we’re talking about, he’s quite the character. Montoya later admitted on the Beyond the Grid podcast that he in fact injured himself in a motorcycle accident. So let’s visit Who Wants to Be a Millionaire with Jeremy Clarkson.
Clarkson: “Juan Pablo Montoya missed two races in the 2005 Formula 1 season, after sustaining injury from what?”
a) Playing tennis
b) Involved in a fist fight after free practice one
c) Motorcycle crash
d) Bumping into a camera man in the paddock
It might even have to be the million dollar question. It’s that difficult to answer.
Jacques Villeneuve / Robert Kubica switch (Hungary 2006)
Michael Schumacher and Robert Kubica share similarities in their debuts – incidents kept each driver they replaced out for multiple races. If I told you Bertrand Gachot and Jacques Villeneuve were both replaced by the two respectively, but one was an on track incident and the other was off track, no, the off track incident wasn’t Jacques.
Villeneuve felt concussion like symptoms after his crash during the 2006 German Grand Prix and decided to sit out the following Hungarian Grand Prix. Kubica impressed in his absence and that turned out to be the last moment in F1 for the 1997 world champion.
Christian Klien / Sakon Yamamoto switch (Singapore 2010)
Yamamoto allegedly had food poisoning which kept him out of the 2010 Singapore Grand Prix for the Hispania Racing Team. But the conspiracy remains unsolved. This probably had more to do with funds and sponsorship than it did anything else, which was a conundrum for sure. Here you had a team barely a second faster than GP2 cars at the time on a much larger budget.
Yamamoto returned to his seat for Japan one round later, however Klien again replaced him for the final two rounds of the season.
Does anybody care? No.
Kimi Räikkönen back surgery (USA 2013)
The Kimi/Lotus relationship soured in his last races with the team. A vulgar radio exchange at India, with story breaking out that Kimi hadn’t been paid his salary for most, if not the entire season.
The funny thing is, once they came to a temporary agreement to continue, Kimi elected to have back surgery and miss the rest of the season. Shaquille O’Neal did the same thing once when he waited until the season began to elect for toe surgery. Shaq “got hurt on company time, so [he’ll] heal on company time.” Interesting decision Kimi.
Fernando Alonso (Testing 2015)
Fernando Alonso’s second McLaren stint just never worked did it? Alonso sustained a heavy crash during testing that left him out of action for round 1 in Australia. There were a few different accounts of the story swirling around, which machination do you believe in?
A widely believed conspiracy was that he woke up thinking it was 1995 and he was a little boy karting, trying to make it to Formula 1.
The other? Alonso said he remembered the incident which was caused by a steering column failure (or a Nico Rosberg “gust of wind” sent him off the race track). He was then given medication that caused him to lose consciousness.
The final conspiracy is that he actually had a dream that involved Ron Dennis upon impact. Alonso may have dreamt he woke up in his hotel room with Ron snug and cuddled up, trying to make amends for 2007 – or was that just Steve Martin and John Candy?
And that last one is my conspiracy theory that you shouldn’t take seriously because it’s probably… well… definitely not true at all.
Pascal Wehrlein (Race of Champions 2017)
Pascal Wehrlein injured himself at the Race of Champions after this bizarre incident:
A buddy of mine asserted that Pascal was actually sitting out from driving the Sauber that year to avoid having to compete in such an awful car. I don’t think it’s true, but with the stories that have been dug up over Wehrlein’s personality the past few years, it just doesn’t sound like a conspiracy.
With no shame, I’m delighted to share my Formula 1 fantasy team names from the past few years:
2018: “Pascal Wehrlein 2021 bandwagon”
2019: “Pascal Wehrlein 2022 bandwagon”
2020: “Pascal Wehrlein 2023 bandwagon”
Even when he left the circuit one year in Australia I said he’d be the 2021 world champion. He just smirked back.
It might be 2047 and I still won’t give up on him. He’s just one of those guys to me.
Do you remember...?
Takuma Sato (Malaysia 2005)
Remember when Takuma Sato missed the 2005 Malaysian Grand Prix due to a fever? Nobody does. Remember when both BAR cars were banned for two races in 2005 due to regulation issues? Yes. Remember when Takuma Sato won the 2017 Indianapolis 500? **** YES.
Nick Heidfeld 2005 (Testing/Italy 2005)
An accident during testing kept Heidfeld out for two races. He was supposed to return for the Brazilian Grand Prix, but he was then involved in a cycling crash that injured his shoulder. Heidfeld has a valid argument to be one of the greatest drivers to never win a grand prix.
Paul Di Resta replaces a sick Felipe Massa (Hungary 2017)
I’m just going to plug the Paul Di Resta strategy and leave it at that – because that was it. Massa was sick, Di Resta filled in.
Ralph Firman (Hungary 2003)
I remember racing at China once online in a video game when someone dislodged my rear wing. I had no clue the wing wasn’t attached and at the next corner I screamed into the barriers as fast as this Ralph Firman crash in 2003. We’re glad nobody suffered life threatening injuries although Firman did miss two races and had a fractured heel. I guess it healed well as he returned after Zsolt Baumgartner replaced him for a couple races. No, that’s not the Baumgartner who jumped from space to earth.
Close calls and tragic goodbyes
Felipe Massa (Hungary 2009)
I vividly remember this as I didn’t see it live. I had no TV access while the session was taking place, nowhere else to watch the qualifying session either, so I had to resort to following text updates on my phone.
The text updates didn’t do Massa’s accident justice and neither did the accident itself. It’s bizarre that a loose spring bounced around and struck Massa – keeping him out for the rest of the season. Thankfully, he survived.
That brings the halo discussion back in action. Every time I think of the halo, I don’t think about how safe it is or how it looks like a thong, I think about this Massa crash from 2009. The halo is never 100% safe, especially from loose objects. What’s important though is that it still reduces the likelihood of head injuries than an entirely open cockpit.
Robert Kubica (Rallying 2011)
Robert Kubica was contracted to race for Lotus in the 2011 season. Unfortunately a rallying accident in Italy before the season began left him with a severed forearm and further complications. Much like Alessandro Nannini, Kubica was a driver with a promising future who suffered an injury that was too severe to overcome.
Would Robert have won the races Kimi had won for the team in 2012/13? What if Kubica had raced alongside Alonso at Ferrari? Would Robert be a world champion by now? Maybe Hamilton and Kubica are teammates now at Mercedes? What if Sebastian Vettel stays at Red Bull because Ferrari build around Robert? The domino effect.
Fernando Alonso (Australia 2016)
This was my first red flag experience at an F1 race in person. It was odd, weird, but tell you what, when you’re standing for hours on end not wanting to leave a good spot you found on the circuit, a red flag period in person is much more relieving than watching on TV. It’s like half time of a football game, enough time to find water, food, get to the bathroom, sit down and not worry about missing any action or losing your spot.
The injury from this raced paved the way for Stoffel Vandoorne to make his Formula 1 debut (and score points) at the next race in Bahrain. Most of all, we’re glad Alonso was okay.
María de Villota (Testing 2012)
I’m adding this one in due to its severity. Poor Maria de Villota passed away from complications of her injuries sustained in this crash during testing. She unfortunately crashed into a stationary truck during tests for the Marussia F1 Team.
This is an incident that could’ve easily been avoided. It doesn’t matter whether the investigation implied that she was at fault or not, the situation could’ve been safer. Why was a truck allowed anywhere near a running F1 car anyway?
Jules Bianchi (Japan 2014)
Along with Maria, absolutely sombre. I never thought we’d ever have another driver death again after Ayrton Senna in ‘94. What Bianchi should’ve and could’ve achieved, will live on through Charles Leclerc I guess.
I remember that day vividly at Suzuka. The crash, the gloomy weather, the Ted Kravitz tone of voice running to the incident, the fact you didn’t know Bianchi was even in the incident, you were wondering why Sutil’s car was there the whole time, the no champagne on the podium, the broadcast concluding. I’d never experienced a Formula 1 race weekend with a driver death before.
I didn’t know what was going on with Jules. I thought he was fine. I told everyone I knew who didn’t watch Formula 1 that it was safe – “drivers can’t die anymore and you couldn’t die if you tried.” I just wish we could have this one race back, he was going to be such a promising talent.
This one really got to me when it happened.