Sir Stirling Moss has some clear advice for Felipe Massa as the young Brazilian fights to get back into the cockpit of his Ferrari following the serious accident that befell him in Hungary on 25 July: "Don't rush, take your time."
Moss, soon to be 80, was the greatest driver never to win the world championship, a king who did not need a crown. But his Formula One career came to an end after he sustained serious head injuries in a heavy accident at Goodwood on Easter Monday in 1962.
Years later Professor Sid Watkins, then the FIA's medical delegate at grand prix races, suggested that Moss should have taken more time before attempting a comeback after that accident. Moss, who recovered so quickly from a broken back in an accident in Belgium in 1960 that he was winning within six weeks, agrees.
At the time everybody wanted him back – and soon – as if his very return could somehow convince them of the indomitable strength of the human spirit. Photographers were even on standby at Goodwood in case he went testing in secret. There was tremendous, if benign, pressure upon him.
"In hindsight, I probably came back two years too early," he concedes. "It was stupid, but I came back because every week the press was saying, 'Are you going to race, are you going to drive?' I, of course, was telling myself, 'Yes, my God I'm going to, I want to'.
"It's the thing about being there at that time. We didn't have people around like the Prof. They didn't exist. When one looks back and one sees the whole picture, it's very easy to say this and that. But at the time we didn't have people like old Watkins. If there had been people like that in the sport, I'm sure that I would have listened to them. But there was nobody to listen to, really, except myself. The doctors said physically I was okay, and I knew that, but the concentration wasn't there. And because the people that I was with were not racing people, it was very much a different situation.
"Because there were all of these articles and so on, I felt that I had to make a decision. There was the pressure on me to make one, really. In the nicest possible way. So I went down to Goodwood the following year and my lap times were comparable with what I could do normally. I was just a tenth or two off. But I could see mentally that I didn't have the concentration to do it with the same sort of latitude for safety that I had. I was going into corners and I had to force myself to concentrate. Right, I'm going down the straight now, that's where you have to lift off... Everything was worked out, whereas normally when I'd race I'd get in the car and just drive. And I automatically would back off here and I automatically would do this to compensate that, and if it didn't work I'd be really surprised. Well, now I had to think of all these things. The automation had gone, and it was now a conscious effort. And so I thought that meant I had to get out."
In Sao Paulo, Massa is keeping fit in the way he did before the accident, but it will take time for any neurological and psychological issues to emerge.
A leading neurological surgeon questioned suggestions that Massa might return as soon as Monza in September, although the Brazilian himself has targeted his home grand prix the following month. "But it's not for me to say, it's for the doctors, and I have to show I can be ready for the grand prix," Massa said.
"Let's see: he has a skull fracture, two, actually, and those usually take six weeks to heal," Moss says. "So if I was his surgeon, I'd make sure that was well healed before letting him back into a car and risking another.
"His scan needs to be fully normalised. The contusions in the left frontal lobe were fairly severe, and these will take a bit of time to be fully resorbed. I would think that will take up to a month or so. Once those two issues are solved – and you see we're already some distance down the road – there is the issue of his neurologic functioning. These kind of lesions can leave subtle damage that needs a real expert to diagnose."
And the type of problems that can occur are, like Stirling says, specifically problems with judgement and reasoning, mood and attention. "These are obviously things you need to know about before putting someone at the helm of a high-performance car. I would think reasonably it will take at least two months for all the above criteria to be met."Reuse content