Motor Racing: Lehto may miss start of season with neck injury

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The Independent Online
OFFICIALS of the Benetton-Ford team fear their new driver, J J Lehto, may miss the start of the Formula One season after crushing a vertebra in a 150 mph crash during testing at Silverstone, writes Derick Allsop.

The 27-year-old Finn was said to be in a satisfactory condition in the London Clinic yesterday, but is likely to require an operation. A scan this morning should determine the surgeons' course of action.

Lehto was driving a development version of last year's car when it hit a bump exiting Stowe Corner, snapped out of control and careered backwards into a concrete wall. He was momentarily unconscious and briefly lost the use of his hands.

With the opening of the world championship only two months away, the team are privately contemplating the prospect of having to find a replacement driver, perhaps for the first two races, to partner Michael Schumacher.

The team's test driver, Jos Verstappen, is inexperienced, so names such as Brundle, Warwick, Alboreto and Patrese come into the reckoning. All those drivers have their eyes on the vacancy at McLaren-Peugeot, but that team's prime target remains Alain Prost.

Eddie Irvine, driving a Jordan- Hart, was second-fastest behind Ayrton Senna's Williams-Renault at the Estoril tests yesterday.