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Hammond should be 'back to his old self' within six months

Just over a week after he was injured in a 300mph dragster crash, the Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond left hospital yesterday with an upbeat forecast of his chances of making a full recovery.

Hammond's consultant neurosurgeon at Leeds General Infirmary said he was optimistic that the presenter would make a full recovery and be "back to his old self" within six months.

Hammond, 36, looked cheerful and relaxed as he was wheeled to the air ambulance bound for a private hospital in Bristol, nearer to his Cheltenham home, where he is expected to start a course of rehabilitation. The hospital has the only private intensive care ward in south-west England and has a full range of facilities to help people recover from serious injuries.

Hammond suffered a significant brain injury when the 370mph jet-powered Vampire dragster that he was driving veered off the runway at Elvington, near York, on 20 September. The vehicle flipped over several times and crashed on the grass.

The crash came shortly after Australian "Crocodile Hunter", Steve Irwin, was killed by a stingray and prompted claims that such personalities were taking excessive risks to produce exciting television.

Hammond's consultant neurosurgeon, Stuart Ross, said: "There comes a period now which is unfortunately slow and is difficult to get through. But there comes a period when he has to get over the injury.

"He has to rest and allow his brain to recover and that takes time. I'm sure that once that period is over he will be back to his old self."

Asked when that might be, Mr Ross said "in about six months' time". He added: "There's always something in brain injuries that makes you remember you have had an accident. Similarly, when you have a broken bone, there's always that little bump to remind you. But in terms of what he does, what he's able to do, I'm sure that he will be fine."

Mr Ross said Hammond was "indebted" to the air ambulance and he was fortunate that the high-speed crash happened within a relatively short distance of the hospital.

During his recovery, Hammond's wife Mindy kept a bedside vigil. Yorkshire Air Ambulance has received £148,000 in pledges after fans were asked to make donations.

Police and Health and Safety Executive investigations are continuing to establish the cause of the accident, which happened during filming.

Hammond is understood to have undertaken a number of runs before the one which ended in the crash. His fellow presenter James May was due to make the run but Hammond took over.

A BBC spokeswoman confirmed that the final part of the Best Of Top Gear, which was due to be screened on 1 October, had been postponed indefinitely.