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Formula E

Innocuous crash, brutal injury – Frijns’ shunt in his own words

by Sam Smith
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Robin Frijns spent almost a week in a Mexican hospital after his accident on the first lap of the 2023 Formula E World Championship season-opener last month.

What seemed like an innocuous shunt with Norman Nato’s Nissan actually caused serious hand and wrist injuries for the Abt Cupra driver as his left arm was smashed against the side of his Mahindra tub and was then caught in the steering wheel.

Now back home and into what will be a long recovery process, Frijns spoke exclusively to The Race’s Sam Smith about the incident and what he now faces, as he aims for a return to the cockpit later this season following a small accident that had very large consequences.

This is what he had to say:

The shunt

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“I remember everything.

“Obviously, starting last is never ideal. We’ve seen these kinds of accidents where you go into a chicane and everybody’s bunching up and standing still.

“I was actually expecting this beforehand a little. I was going into the chicane and Norman was in front of me, so I was expecting him to slow down because I saw a kind of half accident with two or three cars ahead.

“My plan was to drive around them on the right. But I didn’t expect that he was suddenly still in front of me and that’s why I hit him.

“I was turning right and basically putting pressure on my left hand to turn right.

“The next thing I know the steering just went hard left and my hand was thrown into the cockpit. That’s why I broke everything.

“I’m quite confident that my actual hand was broken hitting the top of the tub. But then I think that my wrist broke because the steering wheel hit the wrist but with this I’m not totally sure.

“I knew immediately that it was really bad because the moment it happened, I immediately got sick. My stomach was turning. I’ve had two or three occasions where I broke my bones in my career and every time I did that my stomach turned.

“I knew immediately that it was not good. But I couldn’t press the radio button because I was cramping up from the pain in my right arm as well.

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“Even though I had nothing [injured] on the right arm, I just couldn’t press the radio button. But at one point I somehow managed to do so. Then I told them on the radio that I’m in quite a lot of pain and the medical guys came and they did a really good job.

“The accident happened right next to the medical centre. That was all in the plan obviously!

“In there when they removed the glove, I saw the bone was sticking out and then I was really in a lot of pain. I was screaming to the doctors to give me something because it’s not going well right here.”

The recovery process

Frijns Hospital 2

“I was really happy how everything went with the operation, which was five hours.

“I have to say that the Formula E medical team did a really good job of taking care of me in every sense. The hospital was really nice and the people were very helpful.

“I couldn’t have wished for more really and I am actually still in contact with the two doctors.

“They operated on me in Mexico and they still ask me every now and then how I am, so that’s very nice. They’ve built like 12 pins in me and they need to see how it heals now.

Frijns Hospital 3

“Then I came back from Mexico, I wasn’t the happiest guy on the planet, believe me!

“But I mean, what can you change? You do the best you can to get back and we see what happens next. My target is Cape Town [in late February] but we’ll see.

“I went to the hospital last Friday to remove the bandages. They wanted to put me in this new kind of bandage and I said, ‘no thanks’. So now I’m walking about without a bandage with my broken hand and wrist.

“I fly to Italy this week to meet the Formula Medicine people because they are specialised in these things, so let’s hope I get the healing and rehab right and quick.”

The investigation

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The FIA told The Race in Diriyah last week that it was conducting an investigation into the accident that was “currently ongoing”.

“Safety being one of the key priorities of the FIA, every accident is being thoroughly evaluated by our safety department, and if we can learn from this one, to keep enhancing driver’s safety, we will,” read the statement.

Frijns had his own views on his accident but broadly believes it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, with an unfortunate series of events and positioning that caused his injuries.

“If you just compare Formula E with, let’s say, Formula 1, if this accident will happen in Formula 1, the suspension will just break because it’s full carbon,” he said.

“In Formula E we’re driving with iron suspension in the front, obviously, because it’s cheaper.

“But it only bends and in my case it didn’t even bend actually.

“I think it’s just one of those very unlucky moments.

“I can’t really say that we should change this, we should change that.

“The steering wheel is not ideal. I wish we would have power steering, but I don’t think there’s enough space in the front monocoque to put it in.

“To find a solution now, I don’t think we have any to be honest.”

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