Belfast Telegraph

Former F1 driver in fight to save leg after accident at charity race

Martin Donnelly gives the thumbs-up from his hospital bed
Martin Donnelly gives the thumbs-up from his hospital bed

By Sammy Hamill

He survived one of the most horrific accidents ever witnessed in Formula One and now doctors are fighting to save Martin Donnelly's leg after it was broken again in a freak accident during a charity fundraiser.

The Belfast-born former Lotus F1 driver, now 55, was taking part in a sponsored moped ride for the Teenage Cancer Trust in Waterford last Thursday and suffered a fall at low speed before being hit by a following rider.

Because no specialist surgeons were available to treat Mr Donnelly, friend and race car constructor Nick Jordan drove him to the ferry to Holyhead then across England to Norfolk, where he has lived for many years. He was operated on at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital on Saturday night.

However, an infection has set in and there are fears he could lose the leg, which was badly broken in the career-ending accident during practice for the 1990 Spanish Grand Prix.

His son Stefan said: "It was basically a clean break across the femur. The complicating factor is that he has an infection, which is not good for the recovery process or the health of his leg, so they are keeping a close eye on that."

Since recovering from the Jerez crash, Mr Donnelly has remained involved in motor racing as a self-employed driving tutor and an ambassador for Lotus Cars.

But he will be unable to work for many months and a GoFundMe page has been set up by another of his racing pals, Jonathan Lewis, to help Martin and his family through this latest setback.

Mr Lewis was taking part in the same Teenage Cancer Trust trip and partly blames himself for Donnelly's accident.

"With his left leg, he obviously isn't a good motorcyclist at the best of times," he said. "The more I think about it, the more I blame myself.

"I suggested he drive the support van, but Martin being Martin said: 'No, no, no; I want to do it'."

Mr Lewis, who was planning to set up a Ginetta junior team with Mr Donnelly, said his friend pulled on the front brake entering a hairpin at about 20mph and the front wheel slid from under the scooter, throwing the rider to the road.

A following moped rider hit his left leg, just above the knee at the femur - the same leg that had been broken in two places and required complex reconstruction following the F1 accident.

"The fear is infection has got into the leg. If all doesn't go well he could lose the leg. And obviously he has fought for 30 years to keep this leg," Mr Lewis added.

"Martin never made any real money in Formula 1 and he works his n*** off every week instructing and doing anything he can to pay his way.

"Now he's stressing about not being able to get to the British Grand Prix this weekend and fulfil sponsor commitments, so I wanted to help."

Mr Lewis set an original target of £10,000. It has already passed £25,000.

Stefan Donnelly said his father appreciates the generosity and support offered by friends and family.

"He's so high on morphine and various different drugs that you can have a conversation with him and then he will close his eyes and not remember a thing," he added.

"Jonny (Jonathan Lewis) has been a star; you know who your friends are at times like these."

In 1990, Mr Donnelly suffered two broken legs, a broken collar bone, broken cheek bone and internal injuries after his Lotus-Lamborghini left the Jerez circuit at an estimated 140mph and struck the barriers.

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