Jonny Edgar was one of Britain’s most promising FIA Formula 3 prospects heading into 2022, having moved to reigning teams’ champions Trident for his second campaign. But a sudden diagnosis with Crohn’s Disease forced a break from racing. He told Motorsport.com how he made his triumphant return at Silverstone.
Back in March, Jonny Edgar had been excited to start his second year in FIA Formula 3. Having joined reigning teams’ champions Trident from Carlin, the 18-year-old was looking to bounce back in 2022 after 2021 turned into a “difficult year; I struggled all year really.”
The 2020 ADAC F4 champion was optimistic, with his new squad having secured the teams’ title last season courtesy of strong showings from Jack Doohan and Clement Novalak. He told Motorsport.com that he was hoping to finish in the top three before eyeing up a move to FIA Formula 2 next year.
His progress was abruptly brought to a halt after the season opener in Bahrain. Having struggled in the pre-season test before failing to score in the first round, Edgar had been feeling unwell since January. But a Crohn’s Disease diagnosis in the weeks which followed forced him to step away from racing.
The illness, which causes inflammation of the digestive tract, had made him unable to eat, and he lost 17kg in a short period. With the support of his team and Red Bull, whose junior academy he is a member of, Edgar decided to sit out the following rounds to focus on his recovery.
Last weekend, he made a surprise return at Silverstone, his home race, just three months after receiving the diagnosis. Despite still not being at full fitness, Edgar took home four points, courtesy of an eighth place finish in Sunday’s feature race, having fought his way through the field from 14th.
It was a miraculous and much welcome return for Edgar, a member of the BRDC Rising Stars. On Monday, he told how despite attempting to carry on in the early phases of this season, his illness meant he was unable to brake properly and was losing strength, as well as weight.
“From the start of January, I was a little bit ill, but it wasn't that bad,” he said. “We didn't really know what it was, so I was getting a lot of checks done.
“All of January and half of February wasn't too bad - I knew I was ill, but wasn't bad - and then it just kept getting worse and worse. By the time we had the official test in Bahrain, I was feeling quite ill. Driving wise, it wasn't easy, but I could drive not too bad, and I was losing quite a lot of weight as well.
“By the time the Bahrain race came, I had lost quite a lot more weight, I think I'd lost like 13 kilos in total by the time we had the Bahrain race. So that weekend, physically, I couldn't drive properly at all really, just couldn't brake properly and had no strength in general. So that weekend was difficult and then after that, we just decided with the team, there was no point carrying on and it was better to take a break because I wasn't fit enough to drive at all, it would have been pointless really to go to the races with how I was feeling.
“For a few weeks after that, I was getting worse and worse, so it would have been even more difficult the weekend after I'd say. I think it was maybe two or three weeks after Bahrain that I started the treatment for it, and pretty quickly, I started to feel a bit better. But even once I felt that, I had no strength, because I went from 69 kilos down to 52. I had no strength really at all, and the biggest thing was gaining the weight back and strength, obviously.”
"With Red Bull, they have some doctors who helped to find the specialists to get in contact with them. It was mostly to get diagnosed, to get that done quickly, and now the treatments are all through the NHS" Jonny Edgar
Despite it being a huge decision to stop racing, Edgar says it was “quite easy” to make, as “it wasn't worth carrying on.” But, he adds: “I was quite sure at one time, I’d be fine. I didn't think it'd be as early as Silverstone, but at least next year, I'd be okay to start racing again.”
He says he was “actually quite happy” to receive a diagnosis, as it allowed him to receive treatment. With the help of the intravenous drug infliximab, Edgar’s symptoms have eased, and he now only has to undergo the process once every eight weeks. It has meant he can now eat and train properly, allowing him to regain both weight and strength. His uncle also has the illness, but Edgar says he “doesn’t really have any issues” thanks to the treatment.
Further support came from Red Bull, specifically the head of their driver development programme, Helmut Marko. Edgar says his father spoke to Marko in Bahrain, and the Austrian offered the help of team doctors for him to receive a quick diagnosis, while asking if there was anything the team could do to ease his problems that weekend.
“There was no pressure from them to do better,” he said. “When we said about stopping, he said it was a good idea to make sure I was fit enough again, and when we would speak about coming back, we just obviously told him about it, and he agreed as long as I'm fine, it's kind okay to go ahead with.
“With the rest of Red Bull, they have some doctors who helped to find the specialists to get in contact with them. It was mostly to get diagnosed, to get that done quickly, and now the treatments are all through the NHS. Then they said whenever I was okay again, just let them know, and I could go on the simulator whenever and stuff like that.”
Four weeks ago, Trident asked Edgar if he would be able to race at Silverstone, and though he says he knew he “wasn’t 100% fitness wise,” he “isn’t too far away.” Despite not having raced since Bahrain, he says it “felt pretty normal” being at a race weekend again.
“Going into the weekend, I wasn't too sure what to expect really,” he said.
“I knew it would take a bit of time to get used to the car again. I think practice went well, I ended up ninth, and that was only 0.2s off the quickest person that didn't have new tyres, because a few people had new tyres, so that was really good.
“And then in qualifying, run one was really good, I was fourth in run one. But on the second run, we didn't change anything but we had massive understeer for some reason, which we still can't explain, we haven't figured out why yet. To be 14th in quali, it wasn't that I expected going into weekend to be much better than that, it was more just the fact that how practice and the first run went, it was just a shame to have that issue because I think it could have been quite a bit better without that. But obviously, I couldn't be too disappointed.
“Race one again, we struggled with the same thing with understeer. I struggled a little bit for speed and then for the second race we made quite a big change on the car to try and fix it. And yeah, for me it was much better. From lap one, it was much better. In the first lap, I managed to get up to eighth, and then after the safety car I got up to sixth after another few laps. And then just at the very end of the race, the rear tyres started to drop off because I think with the car, we maybe went a tiny bit too far, but obviously, when you make a big change, it's difficult to know exactly how much.
“But I think the car was really good the first few laps, which was the most important thing to gain places. I just lost two places at the end of the race. The last five laps was quite difficult physically as well for me being my first weekend back. My neck and arms were a little bit sore by the end because of all the strength I've lost really.”
Edgar is once again optimistic about the season, and believes this weekend’s round in Austria will play to his strengths, with the Red Bull Ring “normally a bit easier, physically.” He hopes to continue his recovery, and make up the time he has lost, despite acknowledging the championship is now out of reach.
Edgar is once again optimistic about the season, and believes this weekend’s round in Austria will play to his strengths
“I just want to consistently have good results, and then yet hopefully win some races, get some podiums, and I think I can take a little bit more risk than most people can, which is a nice position to be in when you know you can take some risk,” he says. “And I think also sometimes, you know, people have to be cautious and you can use that to your advantage a bit at times.”
Whatever Edgar’s results may be this season, he is undoubtedly a talented driver, and one can only hope that he has a better shot of showcasing that talent in 2023.