At 16 years old, Billy Monger was on track to dominate the world of Formula One when he was involved in a crash that would change his life forever. Two years later, the teen is not letting his disability define his success. Recently, he has become the first amputee driver to compete in single-seat cars — and this is just the beginning of what Monger hopes to accomplish. In this recent interview by The Guardian, the Formula One racer talks more on how he’s come to redefine his independence and his passion for racing through his disability.
Ebullient yet fearsomely determined, Billy Monger explains that he has a point to prove beyond his remarkable return to racing after losing both legs in an accident. “This year I want to win a race,” he says. “Stand on the top step knowing I have beaten everyone on a level playing field no matter what has happened to me. My disability isn’t holding me back. What will be the difference in making it to F1 or not is how good I am.”
The 19-year-old has reached extraordinary heights in overcoming the crash that led to the double amputation in 2017. On Tuesday he announced he will compete this season in the Euroformula Open Championship, a nine-race series in F3 cars at circuits including Spa, Monza, Silverstone and Hockenheim.
“I tend not to think about the accident too much because it doesn’t help me progress,” he says. “I can’t forget what happened but I try to think what it has taught me – and it has taught me a lot. If you want to do something with your life, you should do it. I know no one is going to do it for me. It has made me a bit more of a control freak, because I want to achieve such great things.”
The driver from Surrey, known as Billy Whizz, tried a go-kart bought when he was three by his father, Rob. He was racing competitively by six and at 2014 graduated to the Ginetta Junior sports car series until he stepped up to single seaters in the British F4 championship in 2016. After a solid debut a serious assault was planned for 2017.
He had twice been on the podium that year when the series went to Donington Park in April, where his life changed. Unsighted by cars in front, he had no time to react and ploughed into a car that had stopped on the track. It is difficult to watch, made all the more harrowing knowing its aftermath. He woke up three days later in hospital with both legs amputated.
And yet, 10 months later, Monger was testing a modified F3 car for Carlin and went on to compete for the team in the British F3 series that season, where he took two poles, four podium places and finished sixth. His comeback was recognised by the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Helen Rollason Award for outstanding achievement in 2018. It had been a huge feat of mental strength having faced down his demons almost immediately.
“I decided early on in hospital that I was going to make sure I watched the accident,” he says. “I didn’t quite know what had happened and wanted to understand it. That was the first part in my recovery. There was no magical moment where I thought: ‘I am OK and don’t need to worry any more,’ but it helped more than pretending it didn’t happen.”
Monger quickly decided he wanted to race again and had to petition the FIA to allow a disabled driver to compete in single-seat cars. Having been successful, he became the first amputee to do so and will race for Carlin in the Euroformula, which hosts its first round at Paul Ricard next weekend.
It is the most powerful car he has driven and another step up. With the throttle on the steering wheel and a prosthetic attached to his right knee joint for braking, he must adapt to a new way of driving.
Monger is humble, too, in his appreciation of the generosity that amassed more than £840,000 on Justgiving to cover aspects of his rehabilitation, which included learning to walk on prosthetic legs. He was also publicly supported by his hero, Lewis Hamilton, which he valued highly, but Monger has no intention of relying on the world champion’s kindness.
“Lewis gave me support and spent time with me in the early days when I needed it,” he says. “I respect him so much [but] I don’t want it to be the case where people see him always helping me, because I want to make it off my own back.”
As part of Channel Four’s F1 presentation team Monger has a high profile but still faces the same problem every young driver encounters: raising sponsorship to go racing. His aim is to compete in a full season of the Euroformula but that will depend on securing more backing, which he hopes will come with good results.
It seems a mundane obstacle given those he has already overcome but for Monger it is just one more hurdle to be cleared. “If I want to be a professional driver and be in F1, I need to deliver results,” he says. “That is what I will be judged on and that is how I want to be judged.”