In what can only be described as an eventful qualifying session, that as predicted proved to be exciting from start to finish, Fernando Alonso has taken his first pole position since the Italian Grand Prix in 2007. From Q1 to Q3, many drivers looked to be competitive, and after Felipe Massa was recovered from his accident that delayed the final run, all live timing – both on the Formula One website and at the circuit – went down with one minute left on the clock.
First out in Q1 was young Scuderia Toro Rosso rookie Jaime Algeursuari, desperate to prove his critics wrong and not make a mistake in his maiden Formula One qualifying session. And initially, the nineteen year old made quite the impression. After most drivers had attempted a quick lap, Alguersuari found himself in a very respectable P15. Unfortunately, his debut qualifying run didn’t last too long though as the Spaniard was pushed down the tables as those around him improved. And on what would have been Jaime’s final run, his STR4 suffered some kind of failure, believed to be hydraulic, and he coasted the car to the side of the track.
Alguersuari’s stricken Scuderia Toro Rosso brought out the yellow flags which interrupted a few laps of the following drivers, but the STR4 was removed to a safe zone just before the drivers could attempt one last push to improve. Also just managing to put in a lap was Adrian Sutil, whose Force India was being repaired following a shunt in the morning’s free practice session. The German pilot just managed to complete a couple of laps before the chequered flag bought Q1 to a close.
The final order saw Nico Rosberg impressively take the fastest lap, and along with Alguersuari, both BMWs and both Force Indias were knocked-out. Giancarlo Fisichella did post a P11 lap partway through the first runs, but ultimately it wasn’t enough.
The second run saw the Red Bull duo immediately stamp down their authority as Mark Webber went fastest, only to be beaten straight afterwards by team mate Sebastian Vettel. Nico Rosberg then managed to hook up a decent lap before Fernando Alonso showed his real pace by climbing all the way to the top of the tables. Interestingly though, the track was still giving up problems for many of the drivers, the lack of grip and tail wind causing many pilots to run wide and miss apexes.
In the final minutes, Brawn were under pressure, sitting in P9 and P10 for Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello respectively. Button was able to improve, but Barrichello wasn’t and the Brazilian failed to get out of Q2. Mark Webber retained his P1 position, but the second stint would prove to be worrying as the final shots from the Hungaroring as the timer ticked over to 0:00 was Felipe Massa buried in the tyre barrier at Turn 4.
Medics were quick on the scene and Massa was removed from the F60 and taken to the medical centre. The G-meter recorded a high impact and as a precaution, Felipe was then helicoptered to hospital for checks. Rubens Barrichello visited his fellow countryman at the medical centre and reported Massa to be fine and talkative. It would later emerge during the final qualifying run that a piece of debris (possibly from Barrichello’s Brawn) struck Massa’s helmet, which stunned the driver and resulted in the next corner to be missed. Massa thumped the brakes (and strangely the throttle simultaneously), but plowed into the tyre barrier at speed. The fact that Massa remained on the throttle after hitting the wall suggests his throttle stuck open.
The worrying part of the whole incident isn’t necessarily the fact that a driver was struck by a stray piece of debris, especially so soon after Henry Surtees perished after being impacted with a tyre, but it was the way Massa jolted forward in the car as he hit the barrier. This indicates his belts may have come loose or stretched. Either way, no driver should move that much upon impact.
Somewhat amazingly, when the F60 was returned to the Ferrari garage, the nose was still intact, indicating the phenomenal strength of a modern-day Formula One machine. However, given the speed of the impact, Massa is unlikely to take any further part in this weekend’s race. The doctors are likely to order rest for the Brazilian, and they would not want Felipe to be put in a situation where he may receive a second concussion. Thankfully though, Massa appears to be stable and fine.
And so the final part of qualifying got underway, with the nine drivers touring the Hungaroring circuit. Rosberg started the ball rolling with a quick lap, but the German pilot was quickly dispensed by Alonso, then Lewis Hamilton and finally Webber before a short break occurred. However, Rosberg reclaimed his position at the top, which happened just as the live timing – both at the track and on the official F1 website – went down.
With one minute left on the clock, all nine drivers were completing their final push for pole, but nobody knew what was happening. As the drivers returned to the pitlane, it was suggested by the commentators that Fernando Alonso had managed a somewhat incredible pole, but even the Spaniard himself did not know. Alonso was walking around the cars in Parc Ferme asking the drivers for their times. It seems the drivers saw their times on their dashboards, but not the positions in relation to one another. After some swearing and questioning from Alonso, it was worked out that Alonso had taken the fastest lap, later confirmed when the live timing came back.
In all my years of watching Formula One, I have never known such a catastrophic failure of the timing system. Sure, sometimes it goes down, or one car’s system fails, maybe one sector plays up or the order is disjointed momentarily, but we’ve always had the ultimate lap times. But with just sixty seconds to go in one of the year’s most competitive qualifying sessions, Formula One’s live timing asked its audience of hundreds of thousands… to wait.
Fernando’s pole is pretty spectacular though. It is Alonso’s first since the Italian Grand Prix in 2007, and although we await to see the weights of the cars to assess just how good the lap was, it does put the double world champion in a great position for tomorrow’s race. Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber line up in P2 and P3, whereas title leader Jenson Button will have to make do in P8.
McLaren have done reasonably well, although I think I and they were expecting a little more. Lewis Hamilton will start in P4 while team mate Heikki Kovalainen is in P6. With KERS on their cars though, expect the duo to rocket off the start line tomorrow.