Double-amputee teen’s incredible return to cockpit
NINE months and 21 days from losing both lower legs in a horrific race crash, Billy Monger is back chasing his dreams in the cockpit of an open-wheel racecar.
The 18-year-old had his first day behind the wheel of a BRDC Formula 3 car at Oulton Park in England, the first of a string of tests with renowned junior team Carlin Racing.
"Didn't think this would be possible a few months ago," Monger tweeted. "Long way to go but the goal is getting closer. Thanks @CarlinRacing for making today possible."
It's the next stage of a comeback to racing that, last April, seemed inconceivable.
Amazing to see @BillyMonger @Oulton_Park this morning. Preparing for a running in a @BRDCBritishF3 car with @CarlinRacing. History in the making! An incredible achievment, well done Billy! @autosport @bbcf1 @BritishF4 @Motorsport @MNmotorsport @BBCSport #F3 #amazing #billywizz pic.twitter.com/0ekTvY8HJ4— Alan Auto (@alan_auto19) February 6, 2018
Monger was racing in the British Formula 4 round at Donington Park. In the final race of the weekend, the car ahead of him jinked to the left to avoid a slowing car.
With no time to react, Monger ploughed straight into the back of the near-stationary machine.
Recovery crews took over an hour to cut Monger out of his car before he was taken to hospital. His leg injuries were so severe that doctors had no option but to amputate his left leg above the knee and his right leg just below.
The terrifying video of the crash captured by his car's on-board camera made headlines around the world. Within days, donations to cover his medical costs reached over $1.3 million, with F1 stars Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button among the contributors.
"All the support just makes me more determined to get back in the car and get racing again," he told media while he was still in hospital.
"That's the goal."
Monger celebrated his 18th birthday in hospital - and with his first legal pint of beer - before heading home the next day, after a stay of just under three weeks.
Eight weeks later, he was back behind the wheel of a racecar.
Monger drove a VW Fun Cup car with specially modified steering controls, the car belonging to a team of injured servicemen called Team BRIT.
The laps earnt him back his racing licence, and he was soon announced among the driving roster of a team of disabled drivers aiming to compete at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
But Monger's goal remained a return to the cockpit of open-wheel racecars, resuming the career path he'd been on prior to the crash.
To do so, Monger quite literally had to get the rules changed.
The rules set by world motorsport's governing body, the FIA, banned disabled drivers from competing in international single-seater racecars.
"If I could change this one rule then maybe it was possible (to make a single-seater comeback)," Monger told Autosport last month.
"I got the confirmation (in December) and that was really good to get that sorted quite early on as well.
"Changing any rule of any form of sport takes time so we were hoping that it would be ready for the start of this year. It was a real boost.
"I'm hoping to have my first test in January and, after that, see how it goes. I've got a series in mind and I'm working with a team."
Fantastic to see @BillyMonger in the @CarlinRacing @BRDCBritishF3 car this afternoon @Oulton_Park ! What a remarkable story! Must be a dream come true to be back in a single seater. @autosport @bbcf1 @SkySportsF1 @Motorsport @BritishF4 @MNmotorsport @SkyF1Insider #BillyWhizz pic.twitter.com/23CO40Qb1C— Alan Auto (@alan_auto19) February 6, 2018
The car Monger drove at Oulton Park is a slight step up from the F4 car he was racing at the time of his crash. It's not a full F3-spec car, the style raced by Max Verstappen prior to his leap to Formula 1, but more like an F4 car with a more powerful motor.
The BRDC F3 series has proven a launching pad to help young drivers on the path to F1; among its alumni are McLaren and Mercedes test drivers Lando Norris and George Russell.