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OCTOBER 1, 1990

Martin Donnelly's accident at Jerez


With just eight minutes remaining in Friday's official qualifying session a terrible hush fell over the pitlane at Jerez. The red flag was being shown. There had been a huge accident involving Martin Donnelly's Lotus.

Behind the paddock, at the first of the two high-speed right-handers, Donnelly was lying, like a tangled rag-doll, in the middle of the track.

The Ulsterman's Lotus-Lamborghini had crashed head-on into the barriers at around 140mph. No other car had been involved and all indications pointed to a serious mechanical failure.

The car had hit the slightly curving metal barriers between two supporting posts and the barriers had bent back, absorbing the impact and hurling the wreckage back onto the track.

Such was the impact that the front of the car had disintegrated and lay scattered across the track.

The rear end had been torn off just behind the driver. It had been launched five or six feet into the air and, with the fuel tank ruptured, there had been a brief flash fire. The rear of the car came to rest 20 metres from the point of impact, while Donnelly, the remains of his seat still strapped to his back, was another 20 metres up the track.

Pierluigi Martini was the first on the scene, stopping his Minardi across the track, to protect the prone driver as much as he could.

The FISA Formula 1 medical delegate, Professor Sid Watkins, arrived at the accident scene in the emergency car within a couple of minutes and work began to stabilise the seriously injured driver.

Martin was transported by ambulance to the circuit medical centre where an initial diagnosis was carried out.

"He had an accident in which he suffered head and leg injuries," reported Prof Watkins. "He has concussion, but he's talking. He's fractured his left leg below the knee and possibly his right leg below the knee. He's also broken his right collar bone. His vital signs are good, his blood pressure is good and his breathing is good. He's in very good shape considering the speed of the accident."

An hour after the accident, Donnelly was flown by helicopter to the neurological unit at Seville's Virgen de Rocio Hospital, 50 miles from the track where more thorough tests were carried out. These revealed that his left leg was broken above and below the knee and he had suffered a broken right leg. He had also suffered a broken left cheek bone. A brain scan revealed no major damage to his skull.

Donnelly underwent surgery on his legs during Friday night and was placed on a respirator when he had breathing dificulties caused by bruising to his right lung.

The accident shocked the F1 paddock with its ferocity and many people could simply not believe that Martin could have survived such an accident.

"I'm staggered that he survived," said Lotus technical director Frank Dernie. "I don't know how. I'm amazed that anyone can survive an accident at that speed and at that angle."

Lotus team mate Derek Warwick, who wa one of the first on the scene of the accident, was similarly shocked.

"Nothing can save you with a crash like that," he said. "It's the most unbelieveable escape. God must have been smiling on him. I've spoken to him and the first thing he told me was 'I'm in agony'. My recent accident may have looked spectacular but it was nothing compared to what Martin has been through."

Later, after a detailed study of the wrecakge, Dernie gave further details of what had Happened.

"Martin's survival from such a high-speed, head-on impact means that FISA's saftey measures built into the construction of current Grand Prix cars seems to have saved him from further serious injury.

"In absorbing the massive energy of the impact, the composite monocoque was fragmented. With any other kind of material used for the monocoque, Martin would probably not have survived."

FISA inspected both the accident scene and the wreckage of the car and began a full investigation to try to pinpoint the exact cause of the accident.

Whatever the final outcome of the investigations, there was no doubt that Donnelly had had a miraculous escape.