Saturday, July 25, 2009

Nightmare accident for Felipe Massa

I can't remember a time when I didn't care what the outcome of a Formula 1 qualifying session was going to be. My devotion to the Brawn team knows no bounds, but their fate was nothing compared to that of Felipe Massa.

It's pretty sickening to see a Formula One car immobile in a wall of tyres. Accidents and spin offs are reasonably common, but usually when a car hits a wall of tyres, a few minutes later you see the driver jump out and walk off and you silently thank all those people whose hard work made Formula 1 so much safer. This didn't happen today when we saw Felipe Massa's Ferrari in that condition. Massa did not jump out and was soon surrounded by marshals and then the medical car. I think everyone watching must have been holding their breath. You could feel the air of uncertainty in the pit lane where the BBC were filming. You could see people running here, there and everywhere and for quite a few minute, which seemed to go on for ages.

Then came the somewhat chilling reports that Massa had been hit on the head by debris. In the wake of the awful accident which killed 18 year old Henry Surtees last weekend, everyone watched on with an air of horrified incredulity that two such freak events could take place on consecutive weekends. Then we heard that Massa hadn't been on the radio. Was that because it wasn't working or for a worse reason?

There seemed to be no apparent reason for the crash. How did he suddenly go off at a reasonably easy part of the track. Why did he hit with such an impact? Had his brakes failed?

Just before all this happened, the Official Hiding Behind Pillow was in place as it looked like Rubens Barrichello was not going to make it into Q3 - the first time that any of the Brawns had failed to make the final stage.

It soon transpired that there was a reason for Barrichello's failure to complete his last lap - something had fallen off his car. This "something", a part of the suspension, was what hit Massa. The footage the BBC showed showed that it had given him quite a whack. He started to brake but must have lost consciousness.

Then we cut to some live footage of marshals seemingly scouring the track, presumably to check that there weren't any other Brawn bits flying around the place.

After what seemed like an age but can't have been more than about 20 minutes, word came from Eddie Jordan, of all people, via "one of his spies" whom he wouldn't name, who had told him that Massa was going to be fine.

It's a cruel irony that it was a part of Rubens' car, who is a really good friend of Massa's, which caused the problem. Rubens legged it to the medical centre to see Massa and reported that he was ok, in pain, but talking and not in any danger.

As we all started to breathe again, qualifying resumed in the final 10 minute shoot out. It's usually dramatic, but today it was confusing as the live time feeds disappeared, so the commentators and we at home had no idea what on earth was happening. Neither, it appeared, did the drivers. In chaotic scenes which sharply contrasted with the earlier tension, the drivers parked up afterwards and were comparing their times with each other. They all seemed to know their own times, but had no idea how they all fitted together. As one of the commentators said, it was like a high stakes game of Top Trumps with the winner getting to start at the front of the grid. Martin Brundle had to issue a hasty apology when Jenson Button used some extreme Anglo Saxon to Alonso.

The BBC actually ended its transmission before the result was confirmed - why, oh why, could they not have delayed going to the athletics for a few minutes? If it was football, or Wimbledon, they would have done, why not for F1?

A few minutes later, the FIA confirmed that Alonso had made pole, with the Red Bulls snapping at his heels followed by Hamilton, Rosberg and Kovaleinen.

What was clear was that Jenson wasn't going to figure anywhere near the front of the grid. The Brawn team had put responsibility before everything else and kept him in the garage until they could be sure his suspension was safe. This meant he had time to do one flying lap on his race fuel - it was never going to be enough.

As far as the race is concerned, it was Ross Brawn who developed the strategy in 1998which turned a losing situation into a remarkable victory. He relied on Michael Schumacher basically breaking the laws of physics to do it, so we'll see tomorrow if he and Jenson can come up with enough to at least keep the Red Bulls at bay.

A win for Alonso would actually not be too bad a result for the Brawns, and much better than a Red Bull 1-2. Alonso is in no position to challenge for the championship. In fact, if Lewis Hamilton uses his KERS button to advantage, he may be able to get past one or both of the Red Bulls - he very nearly took the lead from Webber in Germany. Again, he can't challenge from the championship, but he could narrow the gap between the Red Bulls and Brawns. Last year's championship came down to just one point on the last corner of the last race, so every single point is vital.

Anyway, Massa is probably very sore at the moment but if the reports are right, there will be no permanent injury. Let's hope that's the case and that the rest of this weekend passes without incident.

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