Martin Donnelly makes F1 comeback after horrific crash — Flashback

For two decades Maurice Hamilton reported from the F1 paddock with pen, notebook and Canon Sure Shot camera. This month we see Martin Donnelly in 1993 back in an F1 car after his 175mph crash

Donnelly Jordan getting into his car

Silverstone. Thursday February 4, 1993. The media, out in force, has not come to admire the Jordan-Hart F1 car or witness a new lap record. The story on this foggy morning is that Martin Donnelly is able – and willing – to drive the car at all.

Two and a half years before, the Ulsterman had survived a colossal accident during qualifying for the 1990 Spanish Grand Prix. And here he was, preparing to climb aboard a Formula 1 car for the first time since his Lotus-Lamborghini had slammed into a metal crash barrier at 175mph and disintegrated. Donnelly may have been flung unconscious from the wreckage with his torso remarkably intact, but severe injuries to a hideously contorted left leg would lead to repeated setbacks, his life remaining in the balance for several weeks.

Donnelly had raced for Eddie Jordan in Formula 3000. One of the first to visit him in hospital, Jordan had been left in no doubt about his former driver’s determination to return to the cockpit. As an incentive during Martin’s difficult recovery, Eddie had offered an F1 test drive.

It was a generous gesture since few grand prix teams would have either the time or the inclination to accommodate the ambition of a driver who, in truth, did not have much chance of racing again, never mind performing in F1. But that was not the point. Knowing the accident had not been his fault (the Lotus front suspension had collapsed), Donnelly had set a target and needed to prove to himself, if no one else, that he could still drive an F1 car. It was unfinished business.

As Jordan takes care of the crash helmet and balaclava, Donnelly’s preoccupation with his left leg can be seen as he contemplates the one area that could cause trouble. During recovery, a burst artery had led to a thigh muscle becoming permanently stuck to the bone. The subsequent restriction of movement meant Donnelly’s F1 career was more or less over from that moment on. For now, though, he needed to banish the bogey created on that September afternoon in Jerez.

Donnelly had little trouble getting underway, the semi-automatic gearbox with its clutchless changes playing into his hands. After a lap, Donnelly gave the Jordan its head. Then an oil pipe came loose. An unfortunate Brian Hart may have been counting the cost of a blown V10, but the mission had been accomplished. For an elated Donnelly, all the old feelings had been revived. The moment had held no fear whatsoever. This previously shocking story had a happy ending.

Martin Donnelly

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