Despite a serious accident, racer Sophia Flörsch never considered quitting.
The Guia Circuit is considered one of the world’s most dangerous racetracks. Racers follow it through the streets of the Chinese special administrative region of Macau, China, and its track is narrow – just seven metres wide at the notorious Melco Hairpin – and rife with treacherous turns. The Macau Grand Prix takes place every year on the Guia Circuit, home of such famous races as the FIA F3 World Cup. It gives up-and-coming racers the chance of a lifetime to demonstrate their prowess at the wheel. Michael Schumacher emerged as champion in 1990, followed by his brother Ralf five years later.
Fast forward to 2018. Of the nearly 30 competitors at the F3 World Cup, Sophia Flörsch was the only woman. For Flörsch, this race is one for the books for another reason: she suffered a serious accident on the track, leaving her hospitalised and requiring an 11-hour operation on her cervical spine. But she never considered waving the white flag and leaving her motorsport career. On the contrary: if given the opportunity, Flörsch will be back at the starting line at the Formula 3 race in Macau, China, this November.
You began training again just five months after your operation. How did it feel to get back into a racing car for the first time since your accident?
Those five months felt like a long time. I’d never been away from the wheel for so long; I really missed driving. Being bedridden for all those weeks only confirmed what I already knew: motorsport is my life. I did everything in my power to get back into the driver’s seat as quickly as possible, and it felt incredible when I finally did.
Did the accident change you?
Maybe a bit as a person, but not as a racer. It’s not like I never think about the possibility of it happening again, but the accident taught me not to take life for granted and to appreciate the gift I’ve been given to compete in this sport. So, in that respect I would say that it rather sharpened my mind.
Are you saying you’ve never been afraid?
I know no fear on the racetrack. I approach what I do with reverence and know that the sport always carries an element of risk, as I became keenly aware of in Macau, China, especially because the Guia Circuit is such a challenge. But that’s also what makes a race so exciting.
Everything must have gone by so quickly. You were driving at 270 km/h when a competitor employed an unexpected braking manoeuvre, causing you to skid out of control. Your car became airborne before crashing into the barriers. How did you process the events?
I didn’t see footage of the crash until a couple of days later. That was a shock; I couldn’t fathom that I was the person inside that car. Talking about it was a big help. A lot of people wrote me on social media and WhatsApp while I was in hospital, and answering everybody kept me busy the entire time. Then I gave interviews for two weeks straight after being discharged and going home. The more I talked about it, the more I was able to process the events. Above all, though, I was lucky to have been conscious throughout the entire accident. For me, the whole thing looks a lot worse than it actually felt.
It sounds like you never doubted that you would return to the racetrack after the crash.
No, the thought of quitting never crossed my mind. When I heard that nobody else was seriously injured and that I wasn’t to blame for the accident, I knew I would be back behind the wheel.
Did anyone try to talk you out of it?
Anyone who knows me well knows that quitting was never an option, so nobody tried to change my mind. And it’s not like it would have done any good anyway; I always follow my gut. You can’t be happy if you spend your life doing what other people think is best. You’ll regret certain decisions because they were made for you rather than by you.
What would you tell other people who have gone through a traumatic experience? How can they pick themselves back up?
Obviously I can only speak for traumatic experiences in sport, but I would say that before you think about packing it in, think about how much you’ve already invested – about how much you’ve sacrificed, how long it took to get to where you are now, the price you and those who’ve supported you along the way have paid. But the most important question is whether you enjoy whatever it is you do so much that you would miss it were you to quit.
What’s next for you?
I hope to be back in Macau, China, in November for the Formula 3 race. The plan is to compete in this class this coming year, then maybe move on to Formula 2, the DTM or Formula E. Who knows? I have my sights set on Formula 1, and I want to make sure I’m fully prepared when I get there. So I need some more kilometres and experience under my belt – be that in racing tactics, strategy or overtaking manoeuvres. I hope to be ready in the next four years.