So how do drivers like Sergio Perez recover from injuries?

The recent news about Robert Kubica’s latest injury setback is a reminder of the delicate balance between the level of fitness Formula 1 drivers must maintain and the risks they take in the sport.

As with other types of athletes, Formula 1 drivers place paramount importance on recovering from injuries so that they can get back to racing as quickly as possible. Our guest correspondent Brenda Lawrence investigates some of the factors that go into recovering from an racing injury…

Michael Schumacher, 1999 British Grand Prix Ralf Schumacher, 2004 United States Grand Prix Felipe Massa, 2009 Hungarian GP

Despite the inherent risks in Formula 1, there have been just three drivers sidelined from F1 action for extended periods as a result of injuries they sustained in Grand Prix competition since 1999. In 1999, Michael Schumacher broke his leg during the British Grand Prix (above left); Ralf Schumacher suffered neck injuries at the 2004 United States Grand Prix (above centre), and Felipe Massa suffered head injuries in qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix. Thankfully, all made complete recoveries – a testament to F1’s safety and their overall fitness.

Physical and Mental Fitness

A driver’s physical fitness is an important factor in helping him recover from any injury. The high standard of physical fitness that drivers must maintain allows their bodies to recover from injuries much faster that they average person. Their physical trainers also play an important role in helping them get back in shape

Even after a driver’s body recovers from an injury, it can still affect his mental concentration during a race. Drivers must learn not to be discouraged by the lasting effects of an injury or think about what might go wrong in the future. They must accept the risks of the sport and any mistakes they’ve made in order to learn from the experience and return to competitive racing.

Determination and Motivation

Niki Lauda made an incredible comeback to racing, just weeks after he sustained life-threatening burnsA driver’s determination to do his best on the track can keep him from being affected by injuries.

One famous case is that of Niki Lauda, who was nearly killed in the flames of an accident at Germany’s Nürburgring in 1976. Just a few weeks later, he returned to drive in the Italian Grand Prix (pictured) and finished fourth, in spite of his wounds.

Recovering from Serious Injuries

Serious injuries involving broken bones or damaged organs, especially involving the head and neck, can take a driver much longer to recover, sometimes a whole season.

After a driver has begun recovery and has been approved to drive again, he must get his body used to driving a car again. Like most athletes, Formula One drivers work with full-time fitness trainers who can ensure that a driver is doing everything possible to recover quickly and properly.

Mark Webber receives a massage from his fitness trainer
Mark Webber receives a massage from his fitness trainer

While physical fitness is the most important factor in recovery, advances in physical therapy can assist the process.

Techniques such as therapeutic massage can increase blood flow to an injured area, which helps muscles to repair more quickly. Traditional methods, including ice and heat applications, can help with inflammation and healing as well.

After the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna in 1994, Formula One safety regulations have become much stricter regarding serious injuries.

Any driver who suffers a head injury in a crash must take a number of neurological tests before they can return to racing. Felipe Massa had to undergo such tests after his head injury in 2009 before he could begin training again in a race car.

This article was written by Brenda Lawrence. She is a physical therapist whose specialties include rehabilitation and weight loss. She owns the site Physical Therapy Aide for students interested in a career as a physical therapy aide.

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[Images via AutoBlog, ESPN F1, Guardian, Sutton Images, Zimbio]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.