APRIL 12, 1999
Who will replace Zonta?
Zonta went off at 120mph and the hit the barriers side-on. The barriers were so badly damaged that a section had to be replaced. The chassis was destroyed and the 23-year-old Brazil hit his head on the cockpit surround, although the energy-absorbing material saved him from a serious head injury. He was able to climb out of the car but it was then discovered that he had suffered a nasty cut on his left foot, the result of a piece of carbonfiber material hitting his feet inside the cockpit. Zonta was taken to the circuit medical center and was then flown by helicopter to the Duprat Hospital in Morumbi, a Sao Paulo suburb. He underwent two hours of surgery on Saturday afternoon to repair damage to the tendons in his left foot. These are not always easy to heal quickly and the doctors say that usually such injuries take six weeks to mend. Zonta will probably suffer a small loss of movement in the foot, but this will not affect his driving. Zonta was released from the intensive care unit on Sunday morning but will remain in the hospital until Monday afternoon.
No official explanation for the crash was offered by the team but, because of the unusual location of the accident, there was speculation in the paddock that it may have been caused by a right front suspension failure when the car went over one of the famous Interlagos bumps.
"The car has not reacted very well on a bumpy circuit," said team boss Craig Pollock, "which could be one of the causes of Ricardo's accident."
The impact was such that two wheels came off the car, despite the fact that they had been retained by steel cables - as laid down in the current F1 regulations.
According to Article 61 of the International Sporting Code, the team could have nominated a replacement for Zonta in the four hours between the accident and the start of qualifying, although such a switch would have required the consent of the stewards. If the team had a reserve driver present and the necessary seat, it could have run. BAR's test driver Patrick Lemarie does not have a superlicence. The team was left with only Jacques Villeneuve and when he was found to have been running illegal fuel he was sent to the back of the grid.
This was a particular blow to the team because a large part of its funding comes from BAT's Brazilian subsidiary SouzaÊCruz, which insisted on having a Brazilian in the second car and had high hopes for the team in the race.
The team is due to go testing in Spain in about 20 days and we expect to see at least one new driver being run. The word in the paddock in Brazil was that Mika Salo will be one and Lemarie will be the other. In theory Lemarie could try to get a superlicence by doing a lot of testing, his past results are not, however, likely to impress the FIA which decides these matters.