JUNE 23, 1997
Morbidelli out - Fontana in
Still only 22 years old, Fontana, finished fifth in last year's Formula Nippon series but has not so far made any impact in this year's championship. Fontana will be at a huge disadvantage as he has not done any serious testing for Sauber since September last year.
The accident is a major setback for the Sauber Petronas team which hired Morbidelli to replace its original second driver Nicola Larini just two races ago after Larini had proved to be disappointing in the early races of the season.
The accident occurred when Morbidelli lost control of his Sauber on the approach to the high-speed Imola chicane (the cars arrive at 170mph and brake down to around 110mph). The Sauber hit a wall where there was a tire barrier and suffered serious damage to its right-hand side.
Gianni complained of pain in his arm and was taken to the circuit medical center and flown from there to Nevers Hospital for X-rays. It was discovered that he had suffered a clean break of the lower left arm, probably caused by the kickback from the steering wheel when the car hit the wall.
Gianni requested to be transferred to the famous La Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in Paris where he was operated on the following day by renowned osteopathic surgeon Professor Gerard Saillant, who has been involved with a number of injured F1 drivers in the past, notably Philippe Streiff.
Morbidelli is likely to be out of action for a month or more and will probably have to miss not only the French but also the British GP. He may be fit in time for Germany at the end of July.
Morbidelli is the second F1 driver to be injured in a week - his accident following that of Olivier Panis in Montreal - and the accidents lend weight to FIA President Max Mosley's arguments that F1 cars have become too fast. Mosley last week said that Panis's accident was "a definite signal that the speed of the cars has become excessive" adding that the new regulations for 1998 are, therefore, "timely".
This has not stopped Jacques Villeneuve continuing his criticism of the changes - which he says slow the cars down too much. Jacques reiterated his opposition to the new regulations at a Rothmans promotional function at Silverstone at the start of last week.