Sunday, 26 July 2009

A horrendous crash for Massa and shock pole position for Alonso sums up Qualifying at the Hungaroring

It was a bright sunny Saturday afternoon around the Hungaroring circuit, just 12 miles north-east of the Hungarian capital Budapest. Being the last race before the mid-season break, everyone was looking forward to a cracker of a race weekend. But who knew it will end up like this?

Qualifying at the Hungaroring has always been very important. Overtaking is very difficult at this tight and twisty technical circuit, which in some ways resembles the Monte Carlo circuit without the barriers. So in order to be able to challenge for victory on Sunday, every driver ideally want to be on pole. Last year's race was defined by a one-two qualifying from the McLarens with Hamilton on pole. Although Ferrari's Felipe Massa had a brilliant start to overtake both the McLarens going into turn 1 and taking the race lead from there. Massa was then on course to a beautiful victory when, just 3 laps from the Chequered Flag, his Ferrari V8 engine let go. That was a very rare and a very unfortunate occurance because Ferrari engines are known to be one of the most reliable on the grid, and that incident is what probably cost Massa his world championship last season. So put it simply, the 28-year-old Brazilian never had the best of lucks on this track.

In qualifying, the first big shock was that both the BMWs of Heidfeld and Kubica were knocked out in Q1. Toro Rosso's debutant driver Jaime Alguersuari also failed to go through to Q2, which was not just because he was really slow but due to the fact that he had a hydraulics problem half way through the session, which meant that he had to settle for the last place on the grid. But given that this was his first ever qualifying session in a Formula 1 car, he did relatively well and never got into any trouble. He did a lot of laps in the practice sessions, more than a 100 altogether, to try and learn the circuit and the car. Before this weekend, the 19-year-old British Formula 3 champion has only done a couple of straight line tests in a Formula 1 car. The current ban on in-season testing means that teams can no longer try out new drivers on the test track first before making their grand prix debuts. The only testing that is allowed in the current regulations is a total of eight days of straight line tests, which makes it really hard for new drivers to come into Formula 1. But Toro Rosso say that they are not expecting too much from Alguersuari for the first few races, and just want to give him the time to learn the car properly and the tracks, before going for a full season next year.

Going into the second part of qualifying Q2, everyone was stunned to see BrawnGP's Rubens Barrichello only managing to get the 13th fastest lap on the board. That means for the first time this season, one of the Brawn-Mercedes cars has failed to make it into Q3. But while everyone was trying to find out what happened with Barrichello, Ferrari's Felipe Massa had a nasty accident when he went straight off the road and into the tyre barriers at turn 4. At first there was a lot of confusion as to why the accident happened, with many people thinking that he must have had a brake failure or something. While the on-site medical team attended Massa and the track marshals were trying to move his car from the crash site, the start of Q3 was delayed by Race Control.

At this time it was not quite clear to everyone as to what Massa's condition was, and he was taken to the circuit's medical centre immediately. Just as Q3 was getting on to a delayed start, Massa was then airlifted to the nearby AEK hospital in Budapest for further checks. What the doctors did confirm by then that he was conscious and talking, but that he had been struck on the helmet by a flying piece of debris which caused the accident.

That is when the video replays started to show that it was actually a piece of spring from the back of Rubens Barrichello's BrawnGP car that got separated from the car and was jumping along the track at a high speed just as Massa was on a flying lap not far behind. It then bounced off the edge of the F60's cockpit and hit at the top left corner of Massa's helmet. Such a blow at about a 125 miles per hour can be a very nasty one indeed, and even could have been fatal.

When Q3 ended in a load of confusion as the computerised timing system malfunctioned, none of the drivers knew what position they qualified in. It was only 9 drivers taking part in Q3 however as Massa did manage to get into Q3 before the crash, but was obviously out of the action for the remainder of the race weekend. When race control was finally able to confirm the times, Renault's Fernando Alonso shocked everyone by taking pole ahead of the Red Bull Racing duo of Vettel and Webber. McLaren-Mercedes also showed some good pace when Hamilton qualified on 4th and Kovalainen on 6th, split by the Williams of Nico Rosberg. The only Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen qualified on 7th ahead of championship leader Jenson Button. Williams' Kazuki Nakajima qualified on 9th while Ferrari's Felipe Massa was unable to take part in Q3. The Scuderia's team principal Stefano Domenicalli later confirmed that Massa will not be taking any more part in the racing this weekend.

Above all this though, the most important thing now was Massa's condition. Just last week, at a Formula 2 race at the Brands Hatch circuit in England, Henry Surtees - son of former Formula 1 World Champion John Surtees - died when a flying wheel hit him on his helmet during the race. Massa's accident happened in eerily similar circumstances, but this time everyone will be praying with their heart and soul for a more positive outcome.

Soon after he was taken to the hospital, the doctors performed an emergency operation on Massa and later told reporters that at one stage he was in a "life threatening condition" due to a fracture on his skull and concussion. The surgery, however, was successful and Massa was later put into induced coma to relieve some stress from his brain. He will be kept under intensive care for the next few days, but before that the doctors plan to bring him out of the coma sometime this morning and run a brain scan. The scan will then help them know the exact effects of the crash and what, if any, damage has it done to his brain. The key thing now is to ensure his well being and a full recovery. It does not matter when he comes back to racing, as some reports suggest that he could be out for the rest of the season, but all that matters now is that Massa recovers fully.

Latest press releases from Ferrari say that Massa is now in a serious, but "stable" condition. I personally, do not care about today's race anymore and I am hoping and praying with my heart and soul that he gets well soon. Whatever team you follow in Formula 1, even if it is our arch rivals McLaren, please join all of us today in wishing and praying for a full recovery for Felipe Massa.

You are a strong lad Felipe, and just know that we all love you more than ever before. All our thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family, your pregnant wife, your brother, your parents. I am sure that anyone who has ever followed any form of motorsport, will join me in saying that we are all behind you Felipe - you will get through this.

This is why I always say, drive safely everyone!

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