Martin Donnelly, survivor of one of the most horrific accidents in Formula 1 history, is today celebrating his 48th birthday!
The Northern Irishman started 13 Grands Prix for Arrows and Team Lotus in 1989-90, before his career was cut short when he suffered life-threatening injuries when his car slammed into the crash barriers during qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez.
After graduating from the Formula Ford championship, Martin made an immediate impact in his maiden season of British Formula 3 competition, winning four races en route to finishing third in the overall standings.
Despite being a title favourite in 1987, it took a mid-season switch of teams before he was back in the winner’s circle again, and so he remained in the championship for a third season in 1988.
Much to the fury of his team management, he moved up into Eddie Jordan’s Formula 3000 team mid-season, and immediately impressed with two wins and two second-placed finishes.
Again expected to be a frontrunner in his first full-time season in F3000, he lost out to team-mate Jean Alesi. He did make a one-off appearance with the Arrows Grand Prix team at the French Grand Prix – his F3000 team-mate Alesi finished a famous fourth at the same race when he made his F1 debut for Tyrrell.
His performances were enough to earn him a full-time drive with the Lotus F1 team for the 1990 season, and he impressed despite the limitations of what was not a very good car. Then disaster struck during qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix…
Approaching the high-speed final section of the lap, he suffered a component failure and slammed into the barriers at full speed. His car completely disintegrated in the impact, and poor Donnelly was thrown onto the track, still strapped to his seat.
But for prompt medical assistance he would certainly have succumbed to his injuries, but he incredibly survived and his recovery was both long and painful.
Having now fully recovered, Donnelly has continued his relationship with the Lotus name as a team owner in the Lotus Elise Trophy and more recently as a race-winner in the Lotus UK Cup.
[Images via MotorKultur, Sutton Images, Zimbio]
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