F1's newest innovation - the fan car with a difference - will be rolling out of the Red Bull Racing garage at Silverstone this week adorned with the faces of thousands ofrace fans. Over 30,000 pictures have been uploaded onto the livery of David Coulthard and Mark Webber's cars, raising over a million dollars for the charity, Wings for Life.
Since the Red Bull Faces for Charity project launched at the Monaco Grand Prix in May, fans from across the globe have been visiting the Red Bull F1 website to upload their pictures onto the cars and donate to Wings for Life, a charity which aims to find a cure for spinal injuries. The million dollars raised will have a significant impact on the work of the charity.
Among the faces gracing the one-off bodywork are England cricketer Freddie Flintoff, footballer Nigel Reo-Coker and Virgin radio DJ Christian O'Connell. Their portraits sit alongside Mark Webber's donkeys, David Coulthard's parents and even a few ultrasound images of as yet unborn F1 fans!
Richard Dashper, who was himself affected by spinal injury, was excited to have his face on David's car. "I had a motorbike accident four years ago which partially severed my spinal cord. At the time I didn't think I would walk again but after 5 months at Stoke Mandeville National Spinal Injury Unit, I'm pleased to say that I am on my feet again. I understand the importance of spinal injury research so I'm really happy to be supporting Wings for Life and getting my face on David's car is an added bonus. I'll be watching out for my picture on TV!"
Karen Jones donated her spot to her Dad: "He's a huge motorsport fan so I surprised my Dad on Father's Day by showing him where his face would be on Mark Webber's car. He was thrilled!"
Driver David Coulthard said: "I always look forward to Silverstone because the circuit has played such an important part in my career. My two British Grand Prix wins are the outstanding moments here. I am always surprised and encouraged by the support I get from the fans, but this year, even before we get to Silverstone, I have to say a very big thank you to so many of them who have pledged money to be on the car with me for this weekend. It's great that, together, we can do something for such a worthwhile cause as the Wings for Life charity."
Driver Mark Webber said: "I know that most of the support from the fans will be for the Brit drivers this weekend at Silverstone, but this year I've got thousands of my own fans travelling with me every inch of the way. This "Faces for Charity" initiative is a really good idea and apart from the fact it has raised a lot of money for a worthwhile cause, I also think mine and David's cars look really great in their special livery."
Wings for Life
As well as giving race fans a unique chance to make their mark on the race weekend, the campaign has a more serious purpose: to raise money for the Wings for Life charity.
Started in 2005, Wings for Life supports research into a cure for paralysis caused by severe back injuries. The charity is the brainchild of former Austrian Motocross
rider Heinz Kinigadner whose 23-year-old son Hannes was badly injured in a motocross accident in 2003.
He started the foundation with the help of Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz and today it is one of the leading organisations supporting research into curing debilitating back injuries.
Around 130,000 people every year are left wheelchair-bound from a spinal injury. And as the average age of victims is 33, it means that once active patients can expect to be confined to a wheelchair for 40 years or more.
About 10 per cent of those paralysed hurt themselves while playing sports but many more patients, nearly 50 per cent, are injured on the roads and about one quarter injure themselves in an accident at home or in the work place.
If Wings for Life is successful in finding a cure, it could dramatically improve the quality of life for as many as 2.5 million people worldwide, according to the foundation's scientific director Dr Jan Schwab.
"Only 16 years ago, a broken back was thought to be incurable but now we knowthat is not the case," said Dr Schwab. "The question is not if we can find effective treatments and cures, the question is when."
And if Red Bull Racing can raise extra funding for the foundation, then Dr Schwab and his team will be able to take another step closer to that goal.