Luciano Burti reunited with Spa crash helmet that saved his life
Former Formula 1 driver Luciano Burti has been reunited with the helmet that saved his life 13 years ago.
Burti's F1 career was effectively ended by a crash at the 2001 Belgian Grand Prix that left him with head injuries.
Yet until being returned to its owner a little over a week ago, the helmet that spared Burti a worse fate that day had been stored, forgotten, in a warehouse.
"When I picked up the helmet, I cried," the Brazilian said. "The truth in front of me was very shocking."
He added: "When I showed my mum, she also had a shock."
Burti was contesting his 15th grand prix when his Prost tagged the back of Eddie Irvine's Jaguar on the run through the 180mph Blanchimont corner on the fifth lap of the race at Spa on 2 September, 2001.
The then 26-year-old's car left the track at high speed, bounced through a gravel trap and smashed into a tyre wall on the outside of the track, his helmet taking the brunt of the impact.
Thirteen years on, the toll the accident took on the helmet has been perfectly preserved.
|Luciano Burti's brief Formula 1 career|
|After finishing as runner-up in the 1999 British F3 championship, Burti impresses in a test drive for Stewart Grand Prix.|
|Is appointed test driver for Jaguar Racing for the 2000 F1 season.|
|Makes his F1 debut when substituting for the ill Eddie Irvine at the 2000 Austrian Grand Prix.|
|Earns race seat alongside Irvine for 2001 but is dropped after just four races. Immediately signs for Prost as the replacement for Gaston Mazzacane.|
|Contests 10 races for Prost before his crash at Spa.|
"It's exactly the way it came off my head, with the dirt of the day of the accident," Burti, 39, told Brazil's Globo Esporte, adding that the helmet was "very well maintained" and it was possible to see the "marks of the tyres that came over me".
The helmet was preserved in plastic wrapping at a warehouse in France where it was stored by motorsport's world governing body, the FIA, following the accident.
With the warehouse due to close down, the items stored there needed returning to their owners where possible.
And over the weekend of the British Grand Prix the FIA did just that, presenting the helmet to Burti, who is still a familiar face in the F1 paddock thanks to his work as a commentator for Brazilian television.
Burti posted a picture of the helmet on his Instragram account alongside the message: "The helmet from the #F1 accident in Spa, got it back from FIA after 13 years."
"Many people may think that the helmet is a negative memory of the accident, but I see the bright side: he saved my life. If not for him, my story could have ended there," Burti added.
As it was, the accident had life-changing consequences. Burti has no recollection of the race and the 48 hours that followed.
Burti was affected by problems with concentration and suffered from seizures for a few months after the crash. Although he recovered sufficiently to work for a spell as a test driver at Ferrari, he left the team on the expiry of his contract in 2004 and went on to race stock cars in his homeland.
"My recollection of the accident is zero," he said. "I do not even remember the start. My first memory was about three days after the accident, waking up and talking to my parents at the hospital.
"The only thing that really touches me is when I imagine what my mother and father went through at that time, especially now that I am a father."
Burti has already given his battered crash helmet pride of place on a wall of memorabilia from his days in F1, which began in earnest with his debut for Jaguar at the Austrian Grand Prix in July 2000 and was over just 14 months later.
"I'll put it in my collection of helmets from my time at Ferrari and Prost as well as those of friends Rubens Barrichello, Michael Schumacher, Felipe Massa and Jenson Button," he said.
"I even thought of saving it among my trophies - it is still a trophy."