Five Drivers Who Made It Back

Tuesday 31-December-2013 18:49

The news from Grenoble is slightly better after Michael Schumacher's second operation. Given that the medical profession is reluctant to announce good news in case it brings false optimism, the description 'improvement' means some progress at least.

There must have been a fair degree of risk attached to the operation that Professor Jean-Francois Payen attempted on Monday night, as reportedly it was a "difficult decision" for the Schumacher family to give consent for the procedure. And there hangs a question...

So while we pad around the news corridors waiting for more signs of recovery, here are five drivers who battled back from horrendous injuries

Stirling Moss
Stirling Moss will always be the best driver never to be World Champion. He started racing in the late 1940s and took part in grands prix from the start of the World Championship in 1950 until 1962, a period when fatal accidents claimed the lives of many of his friends. His luck ran out on Easter Monday 1962, whilst driving a Lotus at the Goodwood circuit, when it's thought that a car failure sent him off track into a bank. Moss had to be cut from his machinery and remained unconscious in hospital for six weeks. But he survived. To show what an enduringly tough character he is, at age 80, he suffered two broken ankles, four broken bones in his foot, and four chipped vertebrae when he fell down three floors of a lift shaft in his Mews house in Mayfair in 2010.

Niki Lauda
With the release of Ron Howard's film Rush this year - a movie which charted the epic 1976 battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda - F1 fans are well aware of Niki Lauda's amazing fight for life. At the German Grand Prix in August 1976, during the second lap round the old Nurburgring circuit, Lauda's Ferrari left the track at the very fast left kink before Bergwerk. It crashed into an embankment and rolled back into the path of Brett Lunger's Surtees car. Lauda's Ferrari burst into flames, but, unlike Lunger, he was trapped in the burning wreckage before his fellow drivers could rescue him. Although Lauda was conscious immediately after the accident, he later lapsed into a coma and was given the last rites by a priest.

Six weeks and extensive burns surgery later he was back in the car, making light of what were appalling and disfiguring injuries.

Alex Zanardi
Alex Zanardi didn't do as well as some had expected in his short F1 career, but he was back in Indycar in 2001 enjoying his most competitive race at the German oval, the Lausitzring. Zanardi had been leading the race in the closing laps, before a late-race dash to the pits. He misjudged his attempt to rejoin the track and spun into the path of Patrick Carpentier. Carpentier missed him, but Alex Tagliani, who was just behind Carpentier at the time, cannoned straight into him, wiping off the front of the car. Zanardi lost both legs in the horrendous smash and nearly three-quarters of his blood volume. It was only rapid action by the circuit's medical team that saved his life.

Although he tried racing heavily modified World Touring Cars, Zanardi's greatest success came in 2012 at the London Paralympics. On 5 September 2012, Alex won a gold medal for Italy in the men's road time trial para-cycling (H4). Two days later, he won the individual road race and then a silver medal in the mixed team relay. At the age of 45!

Felipe Massa
It was the freakiest of freak accidents, Felipe Massa was following some distance behind Rubens Barrichello's Brawn in Qualifying at the Hungaroring in 2009, when a suspension spring fell off Barrichello's car, bounced up in the road and then hit Felipe Massa's smack on the helmet just above his eye.

Massa' skull received multiple fractures and there was great concern he might lose the sight in one eye. Like his former team-mate, he also suffered a brain contusion and was put into an artificial coma to aid recovery. At the time his doctors reported that he would not return to racing that season and that his long-term future was in some doubt.

In 2010 he got back into a Ferrari and scored five podiums.

Robert Kubica
Robert Kubica was in that select group of drivers (of whom there are just three on the grid) who could take an F1 car and get a result the car didn't deserve. But his driving career looked as though it was going to end after the Ronde di Andora rally in 2011 when a seemingly run-of-the-mill rally accident turned horrific after a crash barrier penetrated his car cell.

Kubica had seven hours of surgery after he was airlifted to a hospital in Savona following the crash and doctors worked to reattach his right hand which was almost amputated. To complicate matters even further he needed double surgery on his arm and foot. They would be the first of many.

Fast forward to this December and he was in Paris for the 2013 FIA awards to receive the prize for FIA Personality of the Year, having competed for Citroen in WRC2. In 2014 he will step up to a full WRC programme in a Fiesta RS. Although the limited movement of one hand means that he can never go back to F1, the fact that he can still physically compete in the WRC with two hands is remarkable enough. The fact that he has the mental resilience to step back into a WRC car and drive flat out is something else.

Frank Hopkinson

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