NOVEMBER 20, 1995
Hakkinen crashed after his McLaren suffered a high-speed puncture and went out of control. It hit the wall at 120mph and Hakkinen suffered head injuries as a result of the sudden deceleration. Two volunteer doctors at the scene, Jereme Lockings and Steve Lewis, arrived within 15 seconds of the crash and performed an emergency tracheotomy because Hakkinen was having breathing difficulty because of a skull fracture. According to McLaren boss Ron Dennis this action saved the Finnish driver's life.
Initially listed in a critical condition, optimistic reports of Hakkinen's recovery in the days after the crash surprised the F1 fraternity although it gradually became clear that Mika still has a long way to go before he is able to race again.
Royal Adelaide Hospital neurosurgeon Paul Bannon told a press conference last week that Hakkinen could respond to commands and was making steady progress, although he pointed out that the full extent of the injuries would not be known for some time. "We will have to wait for an assessment at three months," he told the media. "We are very happy with his progress but he still has a way to go."
Bannon added that Hakkinen was still finding it difficult to talk because of damage to his nose and throat.
Hakkinen is expected to remain in Adelaide until there is no risk in flying him back to Europe. Doctors are always very careful about allowing head injury patients to fly because of changes in air pressure aboard aircraft. Hakkinen is expected to have further treatment at the London Hospital in Whitechapel, where F1 doctor, Professor Sid Watkins in the head of the neurosurgery department.
The long-term effects of head injuries on racing drivers is difficult to assess. Indycar driver Roberto Guerrero suffered head injuries during a testing crash at Indianapolis a few years ago but was not able to race competitively when he returned to Indycars. F1 racer Karl Wendlinger is currently struggling to revive his career after his crash at Monaco in 1994. The indications are that the Austrian will not have an F1 drive next year.
The progress being made by NASCAR racer Ernie Irvan is rather more heartening. Irvan crashed in August 1994 but was driving again a year later. he recently returned to Winston Cup racing, qualifying seventh, leading 30 laps of the race and finishing sixth at North Wilkesboro.
Ron Dennis is hopeful that Hakkinen will race again for McLaren next year. "I am optimistic Mika will be in a condition to race in the first race," said Dennis last Tuesday.