A reluctant prosthetic leg and heavy traffic make Billy Monger a few minutes late for our interview. It is a miracle he is here at all.
Ten months after a crash in a Formula 4 race cost him both lower legs, the 18-year-old is at the Carlin racing team factory in Guildford for a day of testing ahead of his F3 debut at the end of March.
There’s no stopping the boy known as Billy Whizz.
Ten months after a crash that cost him his legs, Billy Monger is preparing for his F3 debut
Sportsmail’s Joe Downes recently spoke to Monger about his emotional sporting journey
The English youngster is ‘ready to rock ‘n’ roll’ ahead of his F3 debut at the end of March
‘It’s been my dream to race in F1 since I was eight,’ says Monger. ‘I don’t see why that should change just because I’ve changed. It’s a big challenge but I like to push myself. The accident has toughened me up and made me realise what’s important. It’s spurred me on to get to F1.
‘I don’t feel like my career path has changed. Before the crash we were looking at F3 as the ideal step up for this season. But I have to pinch myself when I think I’ve managed to get back to where I wanted to be after something so serious.’
Monger’s charge through the field in the rain at Donington Park last April came to a horrific halt when he hit Finnish driver Patrik Pasma’s stationary car at 120mph.
‘It’s still clear in my mind,’ says the Surrey-based youngster. ‘After we’d stopped moving I could hear Patrik screaming. The adrenaline was running so I felt fine and told the medics to go to him first. It wasn’t until five minutes afterwards, when I settled down, that I realised I was in trouble.’
Monger was extracted from the car after 90 minutes before being airlifted to Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham, where he spent three days in a coma while his legs were amputated.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a boy who started karting at the age of six, Billy’s attention returned to motorsport before he had even woken up.
Monger had his legs amputated after a crash in the rain at Donington Park last April
The youngster’s race came to horrific halt when he hit Patrik Pasma’s stationary car at 120mph
‘I wrote, “Who won the race?” on a bit of paper,’ says Monger, who lives in the Surrey village of Charlwood.
‘I don’t remember doing it because I was in and out of consciousness but my mum showed me the scribble. I can’t believe I was asking such silly stuff, but that’s what came into my head.
‘They saved my life but the accident was unavoidable so there was no point feeling sorry for myself. I just wanted to race again.
‘I had messages from all these amazing drivers and they were like a lightbulb going on in my head. I thought, “If you work hard, you can do this”.’
Lewis Hamilton was among the well-wishers, with the four-time F1 world champion joining the swathes who raised more than £800,000 for Monger’s ongoing treatment and rehabilitation.
The pair are in regular contact after Hamilton invited Monger to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone last July.
The 18-year-old driver insists he doesn’t know why his dream to race in F1 should change
Monger was invited to the British Grand Prix last year by ‘good friend’ Lewis Hamilton
‘He’s been a good friend,’ says Monger. ‘I know he wants me to do well and is there to support me if I need him. I was star-struck when I first met him because he’s my hero. I grew up watching him win world titles and I want to achieve similar things.’
That quest resumed just 11 weeks after Monger’s accident when he competed in an exhibition at Brands Hatch.
But a return to single-seaters was out of the question until Monger forced the sport’s governing body, the FIA, to overturn a rule which prevented disabled drivers from competing in international series.
Now free to race, Monger returned to the track in Carlin’s specially modified F3 car last week.
Monger has been nominated for ‘Best Sporting Moment of the Year’ at Laureus Awards
‘I’ve done some awesome things this year but that was the best,’ he says. ‘Feeling the speed again and knowing that all the hard work we put in was paying off. There were no nerves. I was going at 140mph but it’s the most peaceful I’ve felt since my accident.
‘I’m happiest when I’m in the car. I don’t have to worry about my A-Levels or my prosthetics or anything. I can just go out there and be me, doing what I’ve always wanted to do.’
A trip to F1’s jewel in the crown, Monaco, for the Laureus Awards later this month — he is nominated for ‘Best Sporting Moment of the Year’ for his comeback — will provide perfect motivation ahead of F3’s curtain-raiser at Oulton Park over Easter. Not that Monger is lacking appetite.
‘I don’t want to be a sideshow or just another driver on the grid,’ he says. ‘I want to fight for wins and show people I can do it properly.’
Billy Whizz is in a determined mood ahead of his return to racing: ‘I want to fight for wins’