Four years with Alpine Motorsport netted a Formula Renault UK Graduate Cup championship in 2008 before the young Brit stepped up to FIA Formula 2, one of several F1 feeder series. With six victories and a further seven podium finishes, the title was sealed with with one round left to run. As well as several hundred pats on the back, Dean was also given a cherished test drive with Williams, the F1 team behind the design and engineering of the F2 cars. A successful test would also secure the F2 champion a contract to develop the simulator at its Technology Centre in Qatar.
“I remember my dad saying when I was younger that all I wanted to do was drive an F1 car. I was at the top of my peak when I did the test with Williams, and it was a great achievement: there aren’t many people who can say they’ve tested an F1 car. Then there was the sim work [in 2012], which involved trying to get the simulator as realistic to the F2 car as possible. I was working on the sim three-days at a time, six or seven hours a day non-stop. That was really enjoyable, and Qatar was another great country to visit.
It’s reached that point in the conversation where we need to address ‘the break’, as Dean and his manager Anthony like to put it. It’s a delicate subject to say the least, and I’m unsure whether to dive in at the deep end or simply skirt around the edges. As it turns out, Dean – having been grilled on the subject hundreds of times before – takes the lead with another casual shrug of the shoulders.
“Unfortunately I got knocked back. If we’d known back then, chances are I wouldn’t have done the Williams test. There were no real symptoms, and it was only in the last two weeks that I started coughing blood and being sick. It was only right at the last minute that I was diagnosed, and before that it just felt a bad case of flu. Everybody kept saying it would be alright, then I was taken in, and from there it was downhill.”
Though many are aware of Dean’s comeback, few realise just how close the cancer came to taking his life: had he left his doctor’s appointment just two more days, the illness would have been untreatable; one week later, he would have been dead. And the diagnosis was just one part of a very long and very painful recovery.
“When I started chemotherapy, I had 14-hours a day for six days at a time in a three-week cycle,” he continues. “Monday to Friday, and then the Wednesday following counted as one cycle, and I did that four times. My blood count came down to… well, not down to normal but it came down. But then it triggered off again, and I went for more chemotherapy, seven days a week, 18 hours a day. And that was really hard… actually that was the hardest of all. During the chemo I also had a stent put into my kidney, I had a lump in my stomach, I had three operations after the chemo, and I now have a 14-inch scar down my stomach. I remember, when I woke up after the operation I had 12 tubes coming out of me: drains, catheters, needles. I had everything you could imagine sticking out of me. That wasn’t very nice.”
Having ‘gone to hell and back’, as he puts it, surely nobody would have begrudged Dean for taking life a little easier and waving goodbye to the circuit. But that’s not his style. Incredibly, having been told by his specialist that he would never drive a car again let alone race, Dean Stoneman conducted a test with World Series Renault 3.5 team ISR Racing at the Motorland Circuit in Spain in November 2011. Using unorthodox methods.
“Yeah, that was a bit too soon really. We had to tape my fingers to the steering wheel and my feet to the pedals. We just did what we could to set a good time, and that was only two months after a seven operation.
“I have a lot of side effects from the chemo and the drugs, It’s changed the feeling in my feet, I know that: pins and needles and nerve damage. I get frustrated very easily and my testosterone is all over the place, so I have to have injections and tablets. But at the end of the day I deal with what I’ve got and just get on with it.”
Though the test was not enough to save an ISR Racing berth alongside now-Red Bull Racing driver Daniel Ricciardo, it did prove that was Dean’s speed was still there, as was the desire to compete. An opportunity to do so arose in 2012 when, quite out of the blue, Pickfords offered Dean a seat alongside navigator Dean Paling in the following season’s P1 SuperStock UK Powerboat championship. An opportunity to keep his foot in? Dean was well up for that.
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