Week 270 (15 - 21 December 2018)
Billy Monger’s love for motorsport and determination to overcome adversity has transformed him into a trailblazer for paraplegic racing. The 19-year-old driver was this week honoured with the prestigious Helen Rollason Award at the 2018 BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards in recognition of his inspiring return to the racetrack less than a year after having a double leg amputation.
Nicknamed “Billy Whizz”, Monger was given his first go kart by his father when he was just three years old. Monger showed early promise and his ambition from the age of ten was to emulate his hero, F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton. However, it looked as though his dream was over two weeks before his 18th birthday, when Monger had both his legs amputated following a crash during a Formula 4 race at Donington Park in April 2017.
For Monger, recovery was all about being able to race again. “If anyone had said that I couldn’t race again, that’s when I'd have panicked,” he told the BBC. “I hated being a spectator. I felt so helpless on the side-lines, knowing there was nothing I could do to get back out there and beat them.”
While others may have given up, Monger was back behind the wheel just three months later, as he had the opportunity to drive a specially adapted Fun Cup car at Brands Hatch. But he was not satisfied and had his sights set on a bigger prize; returning to competitive racing on the Formula 3 circuit.
It was not just his physical recovery that he had to overcome. The International Federation for Motorsport (FIA) restricted disabled racers from competing in single-seat cars on the grounds of safety, and no disabled driver had ever raced a single-seat car professionally.
Monger appealed to the FIA whilst he continued to practise, initially on a simulator before moving to a specially-adapted car. In December 2017, Monger got the news he had been hoping for: the FIA had amended its rules.
He returned to competitive racing in March 2018 at the British Formula 3 Championship, incredibly finishing in third place. His story has inspired thousands of people and he has become a role model for young people in similar situations.
“People might think I’d want my old life and legs back, which I do, in some circumstances. But overall, it has given me the chance to do things and meet people that I wouldn’t have even dreamed about before,” Monger said.
“The main thing I’ve realised is how quickly your life can be taken away. So, I want to make sure I live my life, doing the things that make me happy without thinking about it all too much.”
Winning the Helen Rollason award, which recognises outstanding achievement in the face of adversity, has raised Monger’s profile even higher, and he now hopes to continue chasing his dream of becoming a Formula 1 driver. For his inspirational effort and refusal to give up on his dream, Billy Monger is JTA Communicator of the Week.