Home Featured Billy Monger: The road to a dream comeback

Billy Monger: The road to a dream comeback

by Ida Wood

Photo: Jakob Ebrey Photography

Comeback stories don’t come much better than this. Such is the enormity of what Billy Monger has achieved since his life-changing accident last year, it’s almost misguided to put a limit on what he could do next.

Last year Monger was involved in a horrific crash with Patrik Pasma in the final British Formula 4 race at Donington Park, and as a result, he lost both of his lower legs.

The rehabilitation process has been tough, but Monger has gone above and beyond what was expected of him, and he’s already back in motorsport. Over the Easter weekend, he competed in his first races in single-seaters since the accident and made an impact both on and off the track.

Taking a podium on his return was an unfeasible aim by his own admission, but he likely wouldn’t have made it onto the BRDC British Formula 3 grid were he not quick enough behind the wheel.

The fact that the 18-year-old has done all this in less than a year is all the more impressive and has rightly been hailed by the mainstream media.

Here is a timeline of how Monger made it to this point, all in the space of 350 days.

Photo: Jakob Ebrey Photography

Sunday, 16 April 2017

On lap four of the final British F4 race of the weekend at Donington Park, JHR Developments driver Monger was involved in a collision with Carlin’s Patrik Pasma.

Battling at the back of a train of cars, Monger was unable to see Pasma going slowly through Schwantz Curve, and he crashed into the rear of the near-stationary Finn at racing speeds.

Monger was fully conscious after the crash, but the force of the impact meant it took marshals and medics almost two hours to extricate him from the car, aware that he had serious leg injuries, before he was taken to a hospital via helicopter.

Pasma suffered no serious injuries, although did speak of back pain for much of the rest of 2017, and is now driving for Arden in British F4.

Wednesday, 19th April 2017

Once in hospital, Monger was placed in an induced coma as doctors attempted surgery to save his legs.

Unfortunately, the extent of the injuries sustained meant they were unsuccessful, and the decision was made to amputate both of his lower legs.

As the story of Monger’s crash spread, support came in from across the motorsport world, including several Formula 1 world champions.

A JustGiving fundraising page was set up by JHR Developments boss Steve Hunter, with a goal of ?260,000 to help Monger beat his life-changing injuries. The donations were to be used “to fund the care, treatments and therapies required by Billy in the immediate future and, going forward, helping him to return to a full and active life.?

Thursday, 20th April 2017

Once the operation was complete and his condition was stabilised, Monger was awoken from his induced coma. He remained in hospital, and started to breath and talk without the assistance of apparatus.

Meanwhile, his JustGiving page started to break online crowdfunding records.

Half a million pounds was raised in less than 24 hours, with the first ?100,000 being raised in just three-and-a-half hours. It quickly became the fastest and most popular personal fundraising page JustGiving had ever hosted, with 9,000 people visiting Monger’s page concurrently at one point.

Tuesday, 25th April 2017

Billy Monger

Photo: Jakob Ebrey Photography

Just over a week after the crash, the MSA and the FIA started to investigate the crash, and what could be done in the future to prevent similar driver injuries from occurring. Monger continued to have surgery, and his JustGiving page moved past the ?750,000 mark.

He also released his first statement, thanking everybody for their support:

“A huge thank you to each and every one of you!

“Your kind words have given me and my family the strength to get through this past week. The love and generosity of our motorsport family, fans, and everyone that has supported me is awesome and truly inspirational.

“The marshals, medics, doctors, air ambulance and extraction crews at Donington, along with all the staff at Queens Medical Centre, what can I say?

“Without you guys, I wouldn’t be here today! I will always thank you all for saving my life!

“The one true hero of this tragic event has been my sister, Bonny, who gave me the will to keep fighting – a value that I will continue to hold now, and for the rest of my life.”

Sunday, May 7th 2017

The next round of the British F4 championship at Thruxton coincided with Monger’s 18th birthday, and he was released from hospital shortly afterwards, with his recovery continuing at his home.

A track walk in support of Monger raised a further ?7,500, while long-time friend and rival Jamie Caroline took a historic triple win, which he dedicated to Monger.

Thursday, May 18th 2017

Formula E got in on the fundraising activities, with 2014-15 champion Nelson Piquet Jr and 2017-18 championship leader Jean-Eric Vergne organising a charity karting event called ‘Racing for Billy’.

Drivers also raced with #BillyWhizz stickers, which were seen across motorsport and still feature on many cars today.

Thursday, May 25th 2017

Examples of aggressive rear jacking point designs provided by the FIA

The joint MSA/FIA investigation drew its first conclusion, and as a result, the first change influenced by Monger’s crash, with F1 teams being told to adjust their cars’ rear jacking points.

The FIA’s safety director Laurent Mekies said: “Following several front-to-rear incidents over the past months in various single-seater categories, the FIA would like all F1 teams to ensure that their rear jacking point designs cannot act aggressively during such an incident.

“Considering the strength, shape and position of the jacking points, they may become one of the initial points of contact in a crash with another car and alter the performance of the crash structure of the other car.

“The use of aggressive designs will not be permitted from the Monaco GP onwards.”

Monday, June 7th 2017

Carlin adjusted its in-house simulator for full hand controls, and Monger was invited to test the system and gain an opportunity to learn what been back in a single-seater, or any car, would feel like. Several of Carlin’s drivers were present for the day, with British F3 driver James Pull commenting that Monger was “putting in some purple sectors” during his time in the simulator.

Saturday, June 19th 2017

Only a month after the crash, Monger was already making plans to return to motorsport and announced a tie-up with?quadruple amputee and Le Mans racer Frederic Sausset.

Sausset drove a Morgan LMP2 car at Le Mans in 2017 and plans to enter again in 2020 with a line-up that includes Monger and other members of his ‘La Filiere Frederic Sausset’, an academy for disabled racing drivers.

Indy Lights also revealed that it would be making adjustments to its Dallara IL-15 car, modifying the rear of the car?to “make sure that the quick-lift brackets aren’t the first thing to make an impact when there’s a nose-to-tail accident.”

Tuesday, July 4th 2017

Monger returned to the seat of a racing car in an adapted Fun Cup car at Brands Hatch in July, which already raced regularly at the hands of Team BRIT, a racing team formed by a team of injured servicemen.

“It’s been really good just to get back behind the wheel,” Monger said at the time.

“Massive thanks to Team BRIT for sorting out today, I can’t wait to be back again.”

Monger hinted at driving in the championship in the future and used the day as a way of regaining his MSA racing license. This would not have left the door open to a return to single-seaters, as there was a ban on disabled drivers competing in them at the time, something Monger would work to overrule.

Friday, 25th August 2017

Extensive physio work meant Monger was now walking again, using prosthetics, crutches and other apparatus to improve his mobility. He shared his progress on Twitter.

Saturday, 30th September 2017

Having seen the track walk at Thruxton, Monger vowed to attempt the same, this time raising money for the Air Ambulance. He completed his task of walking part of Brands Hatch during the final round of the British F4 season and did so on prosthetics, the first time he had walked in public since his accident

Friday, 8th December 2017

After initially looking at touring cars for his motorsport return, like two-time CART champion Alex Zanardi did after losing both of his lower legs in a crash at the Lausitzring in 2001, when Monger found out about the FIA ruling barring disabled drivers from competing in single-seaters, he switched his aim.

In December he travelled to Paris for meetings to argue his case and was successful in getting the ruling removed. Later that day he received his 2018 competition license and the President’s Award from FIA president Jean Todt at the FIA Prize Giving Gala, and he did so walking on the prosthetic legs that he’d got the day before.

Back in Britain, he was also making appearances on television, where he was discussing his plans for 2018.

?Hopefully British F3, I think, we?re looking at. That?s the plan.

?Since day one, [the FIA] has been really supportive in trying to get the rule overturned in time so I can hopefully get back racing in April. It?s been a long struggle, but we?ve managed to get it done. And it?s not just for me; it?s for other people that want to race single-seaters as well that have the same problem.?

Saturday, January 12th 2018

Photo: LAT Images

A few days before the Autosport International show began in early January, Monger made the surprise announcement that he would be a stunt driver for the Live Action Arena segment of the show.

Mission Motorsport, a charity run by veterans, serving officers and motorsport professionals that exists to aid the rehabilitation of those affected by military operations through motorsport, had assisted Monger’s recovery, and several of the members joined Monger and famous stunt driver Terry Grant in a fleet of Jaguar F-Types.

Stunts included drifting, which Monger practised on an airfield several days before, and driving with the passenger stood up dabbing, a signature move of Monger’s.

Monger also made an appearance on the main stage with 1992 F1 world champion Nigel Mansell, whose attempt at a magic trick almost ended with him setting himself on fire.

Tuesday, February 6th 2018

Plans to drive in British F3 escalated and Monger made his first appearance in one of Carlin’s?Tatuus-Cosworth 016 on a rainy and snowy day at Oulton Park.

The car was adapted to feature additional hand controls, but Monger still made use of the foot pedals using a single prosthetic and a hip-pivoting action to control the brake.

“I didn?t think this would be possible a few months ago,” he said.

“Long way to go but the goal is getting closer. Thanks Carlin for making today possible.”

His first time back in a single-seater since his accident answered many questions, such as how he would get in and out of the car, and such was the success of the day, the prospect of Monger joining the British F3 grid became a lot closer.

Another test a week later further reinforced the idea, although there were still several stumbling blocks to overcome.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

By the end of February Carlin had already signed a three-car British F3 line-up, with Monger still searching for sponsorship.

He nonetheless turned up to the championship media day test with the team and went sixth fastest, less than two tenths off the quickest of the Carlin drivers. The weather conditions made the times unrepresentative, but Monger proved his adaptability in tough conditions in what was still a very new way of driving for the teenager.

Wednesday, 21st March 2018

Monger joined Carlin once again for the British F3 test at Spa-Francorchamps, and this time was 11th fastest. Once again he compared well to his team-mates, in what was his first experience of the iconic Belgium track.

Meanwhile, negotiations had taken place between Carlin and MotorSport Vision, that runs British F3, for the team to get special dispensation to run a fourth car.

Tuesday, 27th March 2018

Four days before the start of the season, the news Monger was looking for finally came through, and he was placed on the entry list for the Oulton Park round.

The running of a fourth car, and a modified one because of the hand controls, was cleared by MSV due to the exceptional circumstances in which it was taking place, which also confirmed Monger would not gain an advantage using a paddle-controlled throttle.

?I?m really excited to confirm that I?ll be on the grid for the first round of the BRDC British F3 Championship at Oulton Park this weekend,??said Monger.

?It?s one race at a time for the time being, but I?m hoping to confirm for the rest of the season soon.”

Saturday, 31st March 2018

Much of the motorsport world’s attention was on Oulton Park last Saturday, as Monger made his long-awaited return.

He started the day well with fifth in qualifying, and fourth on second fastest times, a result he has only bettered two times since making his single-seater debut in 2016. He was only half a second off pole for race one, which for anyone on their F3 debut, let alone a double amputee, is an impressive feat.

In the race things went even better, with Monger moving up to third on the first lap when team-mate Clement Novalak and Double R Racing’s Krishnaraaj Mahadik collided and then spending the rest of the race holding off reigning Ginetta Junior champion Tom Gamble to take a remarkable podium.

?It?s a bit surreal but an awesome feeling, even just to be back racing. I?ve got to thank are all the boys at Carlin for getting me back behind the wheel, especially Grahame ‘Chily’ Chilton, everyone who has supported me, people like Jonathan Palmer, family and friends and everyone that supported me after my accident, without that support I wouldn?t have been out on the grid today, so it?s great to be back.

“If you had told me that I?d have been on the podium first race of the year, I would probably have said you were lying to me! It was awesome to be out there and BRDC British F3 is a tough championship to be in. To get out there and prove I?m competitive is more than I could have ever have asked for.

?I didn?t know what to think as I crossed the line, I didn?t even know it was the last lap! I didn?t get a last lap board so when I went over the line I saw the chequered flag, and it was a bit of a relief more than anything, that all the hard work that we had been putting in over the winter had finally paid off and it was a great way to reward the guys and girls to get it.”

Monger finished 10th in the reversed grid race two days later, from 16th on the grid, and looked set for sixth in the final race before being overtaken by Tristan Charpentier and Jamie Chadwick on the last lap.

He leaves Oulton Park fifth in the standings but is still looking for the budget to contest the full season. If this proves to be the end of Monger’s single-seater story for now, then he’s ended it in style, and if it isn’t, hopefully, the podium will be the first of many.