Billy Monger dreaming of lining up alongside Lewis Hamilton on F1 grid after joining EuroFormula Open

MATT MAJENDIE

Amanda Monger is like the mother of any teenager worrying about their future and, for her, Saturday will be a mixed blessing.

Her son, Billy, will continue the realisation of a dream as he begins a season-long campaign in a Formula Three car at the Paul Ricard Circuit in France, but with it come memories of the life-changing accident in 2017 which resulted in him having both legs amputated.

Last season, Monger made his comeback in the British F3 Championship and will take a step closer to his F1 ambition after signing up for the EuroFormula Open. He will drive a modified car in the championship, allowing him to use the throttle on the steering wheel and brake with a prosthetic attached to his right knee.

The 19-year-old is not, for the most part, one for reflection. Instead, he pushes himself to exceed the expectations of friends and family, his mum included.

Monger said: “Mum enjoys it the least and doesn’t like watching me race. She’s never tried to persuade me not to race but she’s not been the biggest advocate of me racing, either.

“During the build-up to this deal [with Carlin Motorsport], she didn’t say a lot as she didn’t think I’d get back to racing.

“Then the moment came and she was probably thinking, ‘I should have said something sooner’. But I don’t think she’d want to limit what I want to do and, as much as she doesn’t like some things, she wants me to pursue my dream.”

It will be two years and 11 days on Saturday since surgeons battled to save Monger’s life after the accident at Donington Park. But any sense that he might not be able to compete in single-seater racing is met with polite derision, as he has an ability to make his incredibly unusual circumstances seem normal.

To return has not been easy. In an expensive industry, Monger still does not quite have the financial backing to see out the season, but he is confident his talent will bring wins and the sponsorship will follow.

“I’ve had thoughts of being back on the top step of the podium,” he admitted. “I guess that’s something that will continue to be in my head and the easiest way to stop thinking about it is to win a race.”

He is in regular contact with both of his heroes, Lewis Hamilton and Alex Zanardi, who are inspirations for different reasons. It was Hamilton who handed over his Helen Rollason Award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year ceremony in 2018, where the great and good of British sport gave Monger a standing ovation.

For him, it was a rare moment of reflection on a “crazy period of time”, while Hamilton, as he bids for a sixth F1 world title, remains on hand to give advice when required.

It is a relationship Monger keeps mostly guarded, as he does not want to “share all the secrets he gave me”, but his past two years have, in part, been inspired by the Mercedes driver.

“He asked me, ‘Do you take notes?’ and I said I mostly tried to remember things in my head,” said Monger. “He made the point you can’t remember in enough detail the stuff that you need to. After every day and session in the car, even now he’ll write everything he did. I always looked at him and thought he was just naturally talented, so I didn’t expect that. I’ve tried to take that mindset.”

"I have Alex Zanardi and Lewis Hamilton willing to help me out. They’ve both been an inspiration."

The parallels between Monger and Zanardi are more pertinent, the Italian having his legs amputated following his horrific crash in 2001.

From the moment Monger woke up in hospital after his accident — what he calls “a three-day snooze” — Zanardi has been his inspiration. The 52-year-old managed to return to frontline racing and the pair met for an emotional BBC documentary last year.

“Before my accident, I didn’t know much about him, but he’s been a massive part of what my recovery’s been about,” said Monger. “Everyone has some sort of sporting icon and inspiration, he was mine. He’s an awesome guy and he said a lot of things to me that hit home in terms that were so relatable to me in what he went through.

“I have him and Lewis, two amazing people that are willing to help me out. I appreciate it’s not a golden ticket but they’ve both been an inspiration.”

Like any shoulder-shrugging teenager, Monger was not entirely aware of his own ability to inspire, something that has changed in recent months.

“I did brush it under the carpet but it’s now cool to think I can have a positive impact on people,” he said.

However, he has not yet achieved what he set out to do. His dream is to have a place alongside Hamilton on the F1 grid. “Adapting an F1 car is not simple, but there’s no reason why it can’t be done,” he said. “I’d like to think the accident won’t play a part in it. If I don’t have a talent, I won’t make it. It’s that simple.”