“And it seemed like that point really spiraled my season. Because I was like, ‘Oh, I’m just going to put it behind me and try harder.’ And then the next race we had an unfortunate circumstance where I think I had a mechanical retirement or something. And then like, okay, well now I’ve had two shitty races. So now we really got to pick it up. And then I started trying harder and then I started spending more time in engineering, working too hard to get back to where I felt like I could. And it just kept going worse and kept going worse and I kept trying harder and getting more and more frustrated. And then finally, Toto Wolff and Mercedes asked if I’d be willing to see a sports psychologist, and I said, ‘Yes, please. I would love to.’ Because clearly I’m doing something wrong.”

For two weeks, he stayed in Vienna, working with a sports psychologist who skied for the Austrian national team, and it completely turned things around. Wickens learned to set lower expectations for himself, and in 2016, he fought for the title and took dominant wins at Zandvoort and Moscow. He also credits the work he did with the skier for helping him make such a strong recovery. “I was so grateful that I had worked with a sports psychologist prior to my accident because when I had my accident, [waking up from] my coma and finally coming to my senses, I knew what I had to do. And that was to try to limit any expectations. I treated it no different than how I approached a race. My work ethic was intense.”


What’s funny about all this is that Wickens doesn’t need to be driving. He always retained a relationship with his IndyCar team and works with them as a sort of a driver coach. It’s a job he thoroughly enjoys, but it doesn’t bring him the ultimate satisfaction. “The thing I was struggling with is when you experience the ecstasy of winning a race as a driver . . . I got my first IndyCar win through Patricio O’Ward in Texas in 2021, and it was exciting for, like, two minutes,” Wickens says. “And then it was just like, ‘Okay, it’s done.’ Whereas a driver, that rush just carries and carries and carries and carries.” The experience validated something he’d felt for a long time—he needed to be back in the driver’s seat. “​​It was never questioned,” he says. “I definitely questioned if it would happen, but I never questioned what I wanted to do.”

Herta believes that this is only a beginning for Wickens, that the fact that he’s been able to get even to this point shows there’s so much more to come. “Anybody can imagine what he had to go through and imagine there was days you wouldn’t wish on your greatest enemy,” he says, “but he’s challenged all of those things and, I think, defied expectations every step of the way, which is the mentality that’s got him back to this point, back in a race car, and it’s the mentality that makes me believe that this is far from the end of the journey, this is very much the beginning, and that he will accomplish many great things still in racing. I really believe that.”

robert wickens

Getting there will require more people like Herta, and partners like Hyundai, willing to spend the money to develop a means for Wickens to drive their cars. In an already cost-intensive sport, finding that extra money is challenging. So in the meantime, Wickens wants and needs to be winning races and challenging for the title.

Since we spoke in Sebring, Wickens and teammate Wilkins got their victory at Watkins Glen and followed it up a week later at Mosport. It becomes clear that there’s no question about whether Wickens deserves to be in a top-tier series—it’s just a question of who will give him the opportunity.

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