Racing drivers aren’t like normal human-beings, they’re made of stronger stuff. Last weekend in the GP3 Series we saw cancer-survivor Dean Stoneman take an incredible podium in Abu Dhabi on his single-seater return but Stoneman isn’t the only driver to make a sensational return.
Here are six racing drivers who’ve come back from adversity.
Ferrari’s Niki Lauda had won his first world championship in 1975 and a year later it looked as though he’d easily take a second. That all changed at the Nurburgring, the Austrian lost control of his car early in the race, and in a horrific crash, his Ferrari burst into flames. The Austrian suffered severe burns to his face and his blood was left poisoned after inhaling toxic smoke – he was even administered the last rites by a priest – but just two races later he got back into a race car.
At the Italian Grand Prix, with his fresh burns still bandaged, Lauda fought through the pain-barrier to finish a sensational fourth place. It even looked as though the Austrian could hold onto his championship lead, but in the final race at Japan, he withdrew – the rain so bad he was unable to see with his damaged eyelids – and he was pipped to the title by James Hunt.
Ari Vatanen was another driver in the height of his career when a crash almost ended it. The Finn won the 1981 World Championship and in 1985 he’d won five consecutive world rallies. At Rally Argentina, Vatanen suffered a horrendous crash which broke his ribs, ankles, knees and several vertebrae.
For 18 months he battled not just injury but severe depression – even fearing that he’d contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion – but when he came back, he came back in style, setting the record at the famous Pikes Peak Hill Climb and winning the Paris-Dakar Rally four times.
Brake failure is just about the worst thing that can happen to a racing driver and that’s exactly what happened to A.J. Foyt during the Riverside NASCAR race in 1965. The American was pronounced dead on the scene when his car somersaulted to a stop but escaped with a broken back and ankle.
Just a few months later he scored pole position for the Indianapolis 500 and two year later became the only driver to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year.
Alex Zanardi was a CART legend, having won the title in 1997 and 1998, and returned to the series in 2001. During the race at the Lausitzring, Zanardi lost control of his car when rejoined the track and spun across the track into the oncoming cars. He was hit by Alex Tagliani, a crash so violent it split Zanardi’s car clean in half and the Italian lost both his legs.
Two years later, Zanardi heroically returned to the Lausitzring and completed the final 13 laps of the race which almost killed him, racing in a special CART car fitted with hand controls. The Italian went on to win four races in the World Touring Car Championship and at London 2012 became a double Paralympic gold medallist.
Robert Kubica was without doubt one of the best drivers in Formula One in 2011, but during the winter-break he suffered a horrific crash during an amatuer rally, almost severing his arm. The Pole is lucky to be driving at all and although an F1 return is highly unlikely, he did return to the sport that almost cost him his life, rallying.
In the first race since his accident, Kubica won all four stages of the Italian Ronde Gomitolo di Landa rally and this year he won the WRC2 title, winning five of the seven rallies he entered.
Dean Stoneman was in the high of this career in 2010, he’d won the Formula Two championship, he had tested a Formula One car with Williams and was set to partner Daniel Ricciardo in Formula Renault 3.5 Series. Then the devastating news came, Stoneman was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
After a three year recovery, he returned to racing in the British Porsche Carrera Cup, taking pole position and both race wins on his debut. Stoneman made his single-seater return at Abu Dhabi last weekend in the GP3 Series, finishing sixth in race one and a brilliant second in race two, just two-tenths off first.
Can you think of any more incredible racing returns? Comment below with your suggestions…