JUNE 16, 1997

Panis's accident

OLIVIER PANIS has broken both his legs and will be out of action for at least the next three months following a heavy crash in the closing stages of the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. The Frenchman's Prost-Mugen Honda suffered a rear suspension failure in Turn Five, a fourth-gear 150mph sweeper. The car snapped to the right, clipping the wall on the inside of the race track and then cannoning across the circuit and into the outside wall, which is right beside the track. The tire barriers proved to be virtually useless as the car went underneath them.

The impact was such that the front of the car was torn off and the front section pivoted around onto his legs, causing the injuries. Olivier was later flown by helicopter to the Sacre Coeur Hospital in Montreal where X-rays revealed that he had suffered closed double fractures (the tibia and fibula bones) in both legs. He underwent an operation on Sunday evening and a number of pins were inserted. It will take at least three months for the bones to heal properly and probably longer before Olivier is fit enough to race an F1 car once again. It is unlikely that he will be back in action this season. The injuries appear to be rather worse than those suffered by Christian Fittipaldi who was able to drive an Indycar last week just 65 days after breaking a leg in a crash in Surfers Paradise.

The crash, which was probably caused by a brush with a wall nine laps beforehand, is likely to bring calls for major safety revisions for the Montreal circuit, which has very little run-off area in places where accidents may be caused by mechanical problems. This is largely because of the lack of space on the Ile de Notre Dame.

It also leaves Prost Grand Prix and Bridgestone in a very difficult situation as there is no obvious stand-in for Olivier - who is lying third in the World Championship standing. Alain Prost may choose to hire Emmanuel Collard - who had been rumored as a likely replacement for the uncompetitive Shinji Nakano earlier in the season. Collard has done thousands of miles of testing with a variety of F1 teams but has never taken part in a Grand Prix.

Alain may prefer to look for a driver with F1 experience and in this case the obvious choice would be Martin Brundle, who has driven for Ligier on two separate occasions in the past and knows the team well. Martin could slide easily into the job as Olivier was being engineered by Englishman Humphrey Corbett.

Martin is currently employed by the British ITV television company as an F1 commentator. His place in Montreal was taken by CART racer Mark Blundell - Martin racing for Nissan at Le Mans - but he could be replaced at ITV by another former Grand Prix driver John Watson.