06.09.2017

THE ROAD BACK: LUCAS DI GRASSI’S REMARKABLE RECOVERY

Lucas di Grassi was victorious in the 2016-17 FIA Formula E Championship but his title ambitions were nearly derailed in the middle of the season when he suffered a double fracture to his lower leg. The Brazilian driver discusses his quick recovery from a serious injury in this interview from the latest issue of AUTO+ Medical, the FIA’s journal of motor sport medicine.

During a charity football match at Chelsea FC’s Stamford Bridge, Lucas di Grassi sustained an injury to his ankle. Initially he thought it was not too serious, and he went on to take two podiums at the double-header Berlin ePrix a few days later.

However, the pain didn’t subside, and after x-rays, he was found to have a double fracture in his leg, ruling him out of the Le Mans 24 Hours. He spoke to AUTO+Medical about the injury, and his recovery from it.

AUTO+Medical: Could you explain how the injury came about? ‘

Lucas di Grassi: I was playing a charity football match at Chelsea’s stadium in London on the Tuesday before the Berlin race. I got a tackle from another player, and I had a lot of pain at the time, but I could move around so I didn’t think it was serious and I just went straight to the Berlin ePrix. I went straight from Berlin to Le Mans, and I was in a lot of pain after the race weekend. I did an X-ray at the hospital, and found out that the fibula was fractured in two places!

A+M: Was that at the Le Mans hospital?

LDG: Yes it was, and the feedback from the doctors was actually not very good. The orthopaedist had a look at my foot and thought that I was right-foot braking, and that it was dangerous for me to compete, but this was not the case. I could not convince him that in modern motor sport we brake with the left foot and only use the right foot for the throttle. I had a long discussion with him, and he thought I was just saying it so I could race, but that was not the case – I was just telling the truth, that we use the right foot for the throttle nowadays. There was no safety concern, because in the worst case of a lot of pain, I would just not accelerate any more.

In any case, I consulted three or four orthopaedists, including one from Brazil who is a very close friend of mine, Dr Antonio Canedo – he’s a big motor sport fan. He races go-karts and he’s one of the top orthopaedists in the world. He told me that I needed surgery as soon as possible because it was a diagonal fracture, so we decided together with the Chief Medical Officer from Le Mans that the priority is Formula E, it’s not Le Mans itself, so it was better to not do Le Mans, not be in pain, not compromise any of the other ligaments or anything on my foot.

It was the wisest decision to not do Le Mans and fly straight to Brazil and do the surgery, so I did that. We followed the FIA’s advice, we followed the Audi doctor, Dr Vincenzo Tota’s advice, and my doctor in Brazil. We did the surgery the day after I arrived, they put in a titanium plate, and I did four weeks of recovery, physiotherapy, a lot of work in the swimming pool, and now I’m almost 100 per cent, less than a month after.

11 DI GRASSI Lucas (bra) Formula E team ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport action during the 2017 Formula E championship, at Monaco , from may 12 to 13 - Photo Eric Vargiolu / DPPI

A+M: So how did you recover so quickly?

LDG: Like I said, I 100 per cent this doctor from Brazil, Dr Canedo – he did a fantastic surgery, I managed to focus myself on the recovery, eating the right things, doing the right exercise, trying to rest for the most amount of time I could, putting a lot of ice… doing all the medical procedures recommended. I’m feeling very good, feeling almost no pain, and I’ve been off medication for nearly two weeks. Everything works really well.

A+M: What would your advice be to drivers who have similar injuries?

LDG: First, you cannot stop your life because of racing. Riding bicycles is dangerous, and I broke my collar bone once training. It happens, so don’t stop your life because you’re afraid of getting an injury. But as soon as you have one, go and see your doctor straight away. If it’s an injury that is not critical, you can do a race and you feel safe to do it, then do it, but think about the long-term consequences and whether it will cause long-term problems in the future. Racing is only part of life, and first you have to think about safety, and making sure your body is 100 per cent working perfectly so you can take the performance out there on the race track.

A+M: You mentioned that a doctor did not understand your situation with the pedals – What advice would you give to motor sport doctors who are dealing with drivers?

LDG: I think for the doctors, they are right to be very conservative and evaluate the whole picture. But like we’ve seen many times in MotoGP and other races, athletes can deal with a lot of pain. We are not like common people, in the sense that when we are doing our sport, we are so focused on what we are doing that we forget about the pain, so we can take a lot more than most normal people can and still perform our job at a certain level, so they should take this into consideration when making their call. I’m already established, so missing Le Mans this year won’t hurt my career, but for young drivers, missing one specific race might be the loss of a massive opportunity, so they have to balance it. They have to make a safe decision and put safety first, but they have to consider that drivers can take a lot of pain, even with a major injury.

A+M: Are you still doing physiotherapy?

LDG: Yes, for the next two-three months. My foot already has 80-90 per cent of the full range of movement of my other foot, so I’m doing quite well. Bones take another three to four months to recover to 100 per cent, so I will do very little impact work – more cycling, swimming, kayaking because I live by the sea… so I should be back to full fitness by season four of Formula E.

Auto Medical 11 CoverThis article has
been republished
with permission
from AUTO+ Medical,
the FIA’s Journal of
motor sport medicine
.