Drivers beware: The nasty injuries sustained away from the F1 racetrack

Thomas Maher

Mercedes' Toto Wolff at pre-season testing in 2015.

Highlighting the safety of Formula 1, it is often the extra-curricular activities that cause injuries to the drivers.

While injuries caused by F1 accidents are, thankfully, few and far between in the modern era, it’s often the more relaxed activities away from the racetrack that can lead the drivers to lower their guard.

In this list, we’ve looked back on some of the most famous off-track incidents that have resulted in injuries to drivers or personnel involved in F1…

Toto Wolff’s bevy of injuries

Ever before arriving in Formula 1, former racing driver Toto Wolff was no stranger to injuries. In 2009, the Austrian suffered a serious crash while trying to set a new lap record at the Nordschleife.

Driving a Porsche 911 RSR, he was doing around 190mph when a tyre exploded, launching his car into the barriers with an impact that registered at 27G.

While he extricated himself from the car under his own power, there was no conscious decision-making on Wolff’s part – he collapsed unconscious behind the barriers just seconds after climbing out, having been concussed in the impact, and relying on adrenaline to get out.

A few years later, Wolff had entered the world of Formula 1 as an investor in the Williams team, before buying his way into an ownership position at the Mercedes team.

In 2014, Wolff suffered quite a few injuries when he triggered a big pile-up involving himself and several Mercedes staff members as they put in some pre-race weekend cycling while out on a trail near the River Danube in Hungary.

The team dubbed the incident a “carambolage”, in which he suffered a fractured shoulder, collarbone, elbow, and wrist, but Wolff couldn’t be deterred from making jokes about it.

“We’ve decided to leave it to the pros now,” Wolff said. “Lewis and Nico are better wheel-to-wheel at 300 km/h than we are at 30 km/h!”

A few months later, Wolff hurt himself again as Austrian media reported he had broken his kneecap by falling off an exercise ball (article image from pre-season testing in 2015).

Most recently, in 2023, Wolff was involved in another cycling accident – this time while on holiday with his wife Susie and son Jack. Mercedes confirmed he had been downhill mountain biking when he had an accident, suffering a fractured elbow in the incident.

Lance Stroll’s 2023 season put at risk in cycling accident

Heading into the 2023 season, Canadian racer Lance Stroll was involved in a cycling accident just a few days before pre-season testing in Bahrain got underway.

While he was forced to sit out the entirety of testing, hardly ideal preparation for a new season with a new car, Stroll was able to take the wheel for the season-opening Grand Prix just 12 days after going through surgery on his right wrist.

Having fractured bones in both wrists, it took a determined effort from Stroll and his medical team to get him into a state ready for racing.

“My medical team, at first, believed I was not only going to miss testing, but realistically the first few races,” Stroll revealed after finishing sixth in the first race of the season.

Having been operated on by specialist doctor Javier Mir in Barcelona, the Canadian explained how a faint possibility of racing became reality.

“Following surgery, Dr. Mir told me I’d be back for Jeddah if I worked hard,” he said.

“With a bit of luck he was optimistic I could race in Bahrain — but that was a faint possibility. To this day, I am convinced the urgency Dr. Mir showed to me helped get me to Bahrain.

“My medical team ensured we were doing anything and everything that showed some evidence for bone healing. It became my full-time job, trying to combine everything that could help, even if it was by 0.5%.

“Once the cast came off on day four it became possible we had a chance of racing in Bahrain. My medical team devised a programme that would help me restore mobility and strength in my wrists.”

Aston Martin's Lance Stroll at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Aston Martin's Lance Stroll at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Fernando Alonso breaks his jaw in cycling accident

Stroll’s return to the Aston Martin cockpit allowed him to swap stories with 2023 teammate Fernando Alonso, as the Spaniard himself had almost wrecked his F1 comeback efforts in 2021 after being involved in a cycling crash.

In early February ’21, Alonso was hospitalised in Switzerland after being involved in a collision with a car – caused by a 42-year-old woman pulling into a Lidl in Lugano after failing to spot Alonso.

He required immediate surgery on a fractured upper jaw, an operation that went smoothly.

“After a period of 48 hours observation at hospital in Switzerland, Fernando Alonso has now been discharged to continue his recovery at home,” Alpine confirmed shortly after.

“He will now have a short period of complete rest before progressively resuming training to undertake preparation for the start of the season.”

The accident threatened to completely compromise his pre-season programme for his return to the sport after two years away, but Alonso was able to take part in pre-season testing before a normal season.

“I was lucky,” Alonso told BBC Sport at the time.

“I tell you that I was worried at the moment that it happened because I’ve been waiting all the second part of last year [2020], and obviously you are preparing for this year’ s [2021] team presentation and the first test, etc.

“And then suddenly you find yourself in a hospital after a bike accident, and you don’t know how long it’s going to take to recover. Luckily the first answer from the doctor was that in one week or 10 days I should be ready to go.

“I had to stay at home [for] one week with not much activity, but after that I was perfectly fine, so it will not be compromised at all, my season, and as I said I feel lucky.” recommends

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Mark Webber picks up injuries in TWO separate cycling accidents

A close friend of Alonso’s, Red Bull driver Mark Webber was involved in a very serious cycling accident at the end of the 2008 F1 season.

He was involved in a collision with a car while out cycling in a charity endurance event, ironically an event organised by him and named after him: the Mark Webber Pure Tasmania Challenge.

The event consisted of mountain bike riding, kayaking, and trekking around Tasmania for a distance of around 250 kilometres in total, when Webber was injured in the cycling portion of the challenge.

He had to be airlifted to hospital as a result, where he was treated for a broken leg and shoulder and various other, more minor, injuries.

Webber would go on to take part in the 2009 season without incident, although would race with metal rods in his leg for a further four years. The timing of his accident was less than optimal for his partnership with new Red Bull arrival Sebastian Vettel, who claimed Red Bull’s maiden victory early in 2009 as he beat Webber to the top step in China.

Two years later, Webber would injure himself again in another cycling accident – racing through the pain with self-administered injections towards the end of 2010. Only his trainer Roger Cleary and FIA doctor Gary Hartstein were informed of his injuries, with the Australian reluctant to admit his struggles to his team as he chased the championship win against teammate Vettel and Ferrari’s Alonso.

“On the Sunday morning before Suzuka, I got on a mountain bike for the first time since my accident in Tasmania at the end of 2008,’ Webber said.

‘I was riding with a great friend of mine. Suddenly, he crashed right in front of me and I had nowhere to go but straight through the ears of the horse! ‘I suffered what they call a skier’s fracture to my right shoulder.”

Webber would go on to miss out on the title after being overshadowed by Vettel in the season finale in Abu Dhabi.

Pascal Wehrlein crashes out of the Race of Champions

Unusually for this list, Pascal Wehrlein’s off-track injuries ahead of the 2017 season didn’t occur on a bicycle.

The German driver had partnered up with compatriot Sebastian Vettel for an assault on the 2017 Race of Champions in Miami when, taking part in a Nations’ Cup race against Brazil’s Felipe Massa, Wehrlein lost control of his Polaris Slingshot machine and ended up barrel-rolling in the barriers.

While he clambered out himself, a chat with the doctors advised him to sit the rest of the event out – Wehrlein did so, leaving Vettel to go on to win the Nations’ Cup all on his lonesome.

“I’d really like to race again and I feel fine, but the doctors have advised me to rest so of course I will take their advice,” said Wehrlein. “It’s no more than mild discomfort but my real priority for the coming year is my Formula 1 season.”

After racing with Manor in 2016, Wehrlein secured a seat with Sauber for 2017. Forced to sit out the first test in Barcelona, Wehrlein returned for the second test, but then chose to stand down from racing at the season opener in Australia as he later revealed the true extent of his injuries: he had picked up three broken vertebrae in the bizarre RoC crash.

“In Melbourne, it was not possible to drive,” he said, after missing the Australian and Chinese Grands Prix.

“I wasn’t there with my back, I wasn’t there in terms of fitness. It was just too early, it was eight weeks after three broken vertebrae. I couldn’t move for 5 weeks, so I was still recovering from my accident.”

Wehrlein eventually returned on a full-time basis, having had Antonio Giovinazzi sub in for him for the two races, but the German would not retain his seat with Sauber on into 2018.

Robert Kubica’s career struck down by rallying crash

The Polish driver was riding the crest of a wave over the winter of 2010/2011. Having been one of 2010’s star performers with Renault, the Polish driver took top spot in the first pre-season test of the year as he wheeled his Renault R31 around Valencia, but his season, and life, would change irreversibly just a few days later.

Taking part in an extra-curricular event by rallying a Skoda Fabia in the Ronde di Andora, Kubica was seriously injured when he impacted with a trackside barrier that sliced its way through the car.

The Polish driver was fortunate to survive, but suffered critical injuries in which his right forearm was partially severed.

Fortunate to survive, Kubica suffered mobility issues with his limb that meant Formula 1 proved almost impossible to return to. He returned to a rallying cockpit a year after his crash and, several years later, took part in tests with Renault and Williams – impressing sufficiently to secure a very popular comeback with Williams in 2019.

However, Kubica struggled for form alongside George Russell and, a year later, was resigned to reserve driver status at Alfa Romeo. He has since switched to sportscar racing.

How different might things have been for the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix winner? Kubica has since revealed that he had signed a pre-contract with Ferrari, that would likely have seen him switch to racing in red for 2012 had he had a straightforward 2011.

Juan Pablo Montoya injury: Was it tennis or motocross?

Shortly after his switch from Williams to McLaren in 2005, Juan Pablo Montoya was forced to sit out the Bahrain and San Marino Grands Prix after suffering an injury “during a game of tennis”.

The incident occurred in Madrid the week after the Malaysian Grand Prix, and rumour immediately swirled that Montoya had been messing around on a motocross bike at the time he injured himself – something he was allegedly not allowed to do, according to his McLaren contract.

But, arriving at the Spanish Grand Prix a few weeks later, Montoya insisted it had been just a tennis accident in which he had slipped on the ball, and not a motocross accident, despite his widely-publicised love of the more extreme sport.

“I heard all kinds of stories,” he said, “but I think the story came up to be honest because a lot of people think that in most of the drivers’ contracts, we’re not allowed to do anything, so everybody thought we have a great story, he’s breaking his contract. Funnily enough, that’s not the way it is.

“It was tennis. I would rather say it was on a bike than tennis, it sounds kind of dumb, but that’s the way it went.”

Was it tennis, or was it motocross? McLaren reserve driver Pedro de la Rosa, who stood in for Montoya, said the Colombian had always insisted it was tennis: “Everyone said that he broke his shoulder while riding a motorcycle or used to be whatever. But there was never any proof. He always assured me that he played tennis.”

Montoya would go on to leave McLaren midway through 2006 after the United States Grand Prix, revealing that Ron Dennis had asked him to leave as his “mind was elsewhere”.

Dennis would later say that the tennis injury had been a key issue in his eyes.

“The accident that damaged his shoulder was very counter-productive, it took [2005] out of play,” Dennis said.

“That created some tensions, but not tensions that anyone created other than the circumstances that existed as a result of that.”

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