The forgotten man

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15 months after his last rate, Pedro Lamy made an impressive return.

Formula One’s forgotten man made his comeback in Hungary. A former German F3 Champion, and F3000 runner-up, Pedro Lamy had only eight races to his credit when his career was abruptly halted by a testing accident at Silverstone. Over one year on, he announced his comeback in excellent fashion, hauling a Minardi up to 10th in the opening timed practice and at one stage or another heading team-mate Luca Badoer in both official qualifying sessions. He finished the race ninth, delighting Gian Carlo Minardi by fending off Jean-Christophe Bouillon’s works Ford-engined Sauber.

It marked a watershed not only in terms of his Lamy’s own rehabilitation, but that of the sport itself. For months the 23 year-old Portuguese driver has haunted the Formula One paddock, always calling to mind some grizzly event from its past. The truth is not that far removed, for the accident which shattered his legs at Silverstone last May was the last in a string of incidents which served as a grim reminder of dangers many people believed had long been consigned to the history books.

“We were told that he had gone off, but when I got to the scene I thought he was dead,” recalls Andy Tilley. his engineer at Lotus and now also with Minardi. “It was like the scene out of a film: the gearbox was here, the engine over there and the car, which was somewhere else, was completely broken. It was also on fire. When I found he was alive, I was really surprised.”

Lamy was pretty surprised too. He remembers nothing of the accident, only waking up in hospital.

“From the moment I woke up I never had any doubt that I would come back,” he insists, “but I guess you never really know until you jump in the car again and drive. I was full of drugs and I asked the doctor, ‘Do you think I am racing?’ and it was like ‘Yes, you’re racing- stay there…'”

Repairing his legs one thing, rebuilding his Formula One career quite another: many teams are concerned not so much by drivers’ health, but their bank balance. “It was so frustrating,” he remembers of the endless round of negotiations. “That was the only time I began to doubt that I would ever make it back.”

But make it he did, and he clearly relished every minute of his return.

“In some ways Hungary was an easy place to return, because the speeds are relatively low,” he says. “But on the other side, it was a very hard race because the circuit is always so crowded. I felt better than I expected because my neck was okay, and normally drivers have problems with that when they come back to Formula One. I still remember the first time I drove after my accident, in a Sauber. I knew that I was alright, that my feelings were good and that I could come back, but my neck was absolutely finished!

“The only worry I did have in the race was with my right leg. I was getting so much pain it was terrible. l thought there was no way I would be able to finish. It was 15 laps to go. 10 laps, five laps and then I knew I could do it. It was nothing to do with my accident, it was just cramp from my position in the cockpit. I know I am nowhere near 100 per cent at the moment, and I didn’t expect to get so close to Luca, but I know that I will be able to take the car to the limit.”

Already Lamy looks at ease, something that couldn’t be said during his brief tenure at Lotus.

“At Lotus I felt that the big bosses were too far from the people, the mechanics, and sometimes even from the drivers as well. I never felt good there,” he explains. “It is completely different at Minardi. The team works very professionally, yet everybody is like a family. It feels good to be back.” M S

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