FREC rookie Adam Fitzgerald has already had his season disrupted after just one race, being ruled out of today’s action at Imola by injury after launching over a sausage kerb in yesterday’s race
Race Performance Motorsport’s Adam Fitzgerald has withdrawn from Formula Regional European Championship’s Sunday sessions at Imola after injuring himself on Saturday.
He qualified 28th for his debut race in the series, which he finished in 22nd and as the highest placed of R-P-M’s three drivers as Maceo Capietto retired with suspension damage following contact and Santiago Ramos could only make it up to 23rd from a pitlane start after problems with the Autotecnica engine that were outside of the team’s control
Fitzgerald’s result came despite a moment in which he was launched over a sausage kerb, that subsequently put him out of the qualifying session held this morning and the race that is scheduled this afternoon.
The Irish racer confirmed on Saturday evening that he would have to miss at least one race, but a discussion R-P-M team boss Keith Donegan had with Formula Scout’s paddock reporter Roger Gascoigne on Sunday morning has revealed that he could be out of action for round two of the season in a month’s time.
“Adam has three fractured vertebraes in his back. I think it’s in his upper back, because if you look at the onboard the sauage kerb launched him over a metre in the air. And it was kind of sideways but also back,” said Donegan.
“He hit the first sausage and went maybe half a metre, and then even more I’d say, maybe 1.3, 1.4 metres in the air because he hit the first sausage and then the second one launched him. He was in hospital last night, and he was waiting to get the back brace. Because he can’t leave without the brace, and he’s on strong painkillers as well because he said it’s taking his breath away, the pain is.”
Doctors at the local hospital in Imola said Fitzgerald will have to wait “four weeks”, but it’s not entirely clear what element of the recovery timeline they were referencing.
“They said four weeks, they don’t really know if it’s four weeks until he can take off the brace, or four weeks until he’s back to normal,” Donegan explained. “But talking to Santiago, the same thing happened to him on the sausage kerbs and also happened to every second driver, to be honest.
“At this stage, it will be longer, [I think, than four weeks]. I think it will be probably two months. We might see four weeks that he gets out of the brace until the fracture heals, but with the vibrations that’s in the cockpit and the seat, it’s really hard on the back. I told him to take his time, don’t push too hard, because he can have some long-term damage and stuff. Your back is so important.”
Round two of the FREC season takes place at Barcelona on May 19-21, then the series races at the Hungaroring on June 17/18 and at Spa-Francorchamps on June 30/July 1.
“It’s really, really frustrating. I’m not satisfied becase it shouldn’t have happened,” added Donegan. “These cars are really safe, everything is pushing towards safety, it has to be a certain way the crash structure. But there’s nothing to protect the drivers whenever you launch the car in the air. It’s all impact from the wall, you know normally if something comes in on the cockpit [first], but they put these banana kerbs on the track.
“And it’s not the championship, it’s either the track or whoever homologates the track. They say it’s suitable for a single-seater, but it’s not. Like these sausage kerbs are for GT cars with really soft suspension, and whenever a single-seater goes over these sausage kerbs, it launches the car. I don’t know what the philosophy is or what the mindset is to even keep them, because we saw four years ago with Alex Peroni at Monza [in FIA Formula 3]. If that wasn’t enough for them sausage kerbs to be banned altogether, I don’t know what is.”
The scale of the physical impact on Fitzgerald’s body in the incident was highlighted by the damage his Tatuus T-318 car took as well.
“Adam’s car, the chassis is broken, the engine is broken, the gearbox is broken, the bellhousing is broken, the front wing is broken, two sidepods, everything. So it’s really scary when that happens. People don’t realise it when you’re in the car, but all of that pressure is going on your back. So hopefully from that [something changes], I don’t know if anything will happen.”
Sausage kerbs have featured in the several back-breaking incidents that have occurred in junior single-seater racing in recent years, with Peroni’s 2019 incident at Monza followed by Formula 2 driver Sean Gelael at Barcelona in 2020 which was investigated by the FIA.
However minimal action was taken following that, and there were drivers voicing concerns through 2021. At the French Grand Prix a sausage kerb at turn two of Paul Ricard destroyed the suspension of Arthur Leclerc’s car, while Ramos got injured running over a kerb at Misano while competing in F4 and had to miss several races.
“I can give you a list of drivers that it’s happened to,” said Donegan. “Tim Tramnitz only got the bolts out of his back [recently, after a freak F4 accident unrelated to kerbs in late 2021], Santiago did it in Misano in F4, Maceo also did it.
“Abbie Eaton in W Series did it bad, she was three months in the brace. I just really don’t understand. I know when Santiago went to the people in Misano that time and said ‘why do you put the sausage kerbs there?’. And they said ‘we have to make the driver afraid to run wide’. And he said ‘it’s because I lost control of the car that I ran wide, it wasn’t that I wanted to go out there’. It’s not like Adam wanted to cut turn two.
“I don’t know what it’s going to take, because after the Peroni thing – which was years ago – and there’s been so many since that, like do we just have every second driver on the grid having broken their back at some point?
“I said this morning that sooner or later, somebody will actually have spinal injury from it, because your back is really dangerous [to damage] and they could end up with long-term damage. We just have to find the solution and start to open the discussion again, because it’s just a matter of time before something else happens.”
After Fitzgerald exits hospital – when he recieves his back brace – and returns home, he will be seen by a back specialist “who’s going to do a lot of rehab with him” before he returns to the cockpit. According to Donegan, he was eager to find out what had happened in the qualifying session he had missed and was remaining focused on his racing plans despite the injury.
“He wants to be back out, but we have to do what’s best for his head. Because if you go too soon, or if he jumps on one of these kerbs again, it’s a disaster. Straight away it will destroy his back.”
The incident attracted the interest of Eaton, who suffered a T4 compression fracture when she ran over a sausage kerb at Circuit of the Americas while racing in the FRegional-spec W Series in 2021, and she tweeted about Fitzgerald’s hit.