Hungary 2009: Massa Rests His Weary Head After Successful Surgery

Hungary 2009: Massa Rests His Weary Head After Successful Surgery

Felipe Massa this evening is resting his tired head after having an operation at Hungary’s AEK hospital in Budapest. The Ferrari pilot was airlifted from the Hungaroring to the city’s hospital following a high-speed accident in qualifying which left the Brazilian with concussion and damage to his skull. Thankfully, Massa was conscious when taken to the medical centre and was visited by fellow countrymen Rubens Barrichello and Nelson Piquet Jr. Ferrari state that Felipe will remain in intensive care overnight for observation.

The accident happened after Massa was struck in the face of his helmet by a spring that had come from the leading Brawn BGP 001 of Rubens Barrichello. For some unknown reason at the moment, the part came off and flew through the air, straight into the path of the following Massa. The part only weighs about 800 grams, but having it strike you at great speed must be a bit like being shot at, one can imagine.

Massa was obviously shocked, and from the on-screen graphic, it appears Felipe applied the brakes while maintaining the open throttle. His trajectory did not change after the spring had impacted him, and Massa went straight over the following corner, back across the track and over a tarmaced run-off area before thumping the tyre barrier and Turn 4. Massa did not immediately get out of the car, although he was moving his head. The medics were on the scene very quickly, and Massa was taken care of very well.

When the car returned to the pitlane, it had suffered obvious damage from the tyre wall. The front wheels had been pushed back towards the sidepods and had removed themselves from the chassis. The front wing was placed in the cockpit for transportation ease, but amazingly, the nose maintained its shape and the front of the monocoque looked relatively undamaged.

In 2008, Heikki Kovalainen suffered a high-speed tyre barrier impact in Barcelona during the Spanish Grand Prix. Although the Finn was uninjured, he did suffer concussion and was carted off to hospital for checks. However, despite the high speeds involved and the fact that Heikki’s McLaren had dug down in the barrier which made the impact worse, he did essentially walk away, albeit on a stretcher.

However, rolling back a few years to the 1999 British Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher impacted a tyre barrier at the Stowe corner at speed, an accident that resulted in the German world champion braking a leg. The brake cost Schumacher most of the season and therefore the chance to continue fighting for championship. In ten years though, safety has improved sufficiently that drivers can experience similar incidents, but be able to live to tell the tale. Of course, complacency should never be allowed to creep in, but Massa has to be thankful that the constant improvement made at the circuits and to the cars helped him today.

The only other unexplained issue surrounding Massa’s accident, aside from the throttle/brake thing which could be put down to Felipe simply being absolutely stunned, is the way the Brazilian moved upon impact. Even with a HANS device wrapped around his neck, Massa moved forward substantially as the car thumped the tyres. This suggests the belts stretched more than they should have done.

The last time I am aware of a driver suffering from stretched belts was back in 1995 when Mika Hakkinen had an almighty accident at Adelaide. Mika’s head was thrown forward into the steering wheel, which resulted in the Finnish driver being taken to hospital in a coma. Thankfully, Mika came around and went on to take the 1998 and 1999 world titles, so it probably didn’t do him any long term damage (aside from being slightly deaf in one his ears), but since this accident, changes have been made to the steering wheels of Formula One cars. It isn’t known yet, but unlikely that Felipe’s head actually came into contact with the steering wheel, but the little Brazilian still moved a fair amount in the cockpit upon impact.

Ferrari have said they will keep everybody updated with how Felipe is doing later this evening and tomorrow morning. His surgery has gone well, and now the recovery begins. Thankfully for Massa, Formula One is about to go on a four week break, so Felipe should have plenty of time to rest and ready himself for Valencia at the end of August.

Further Reading


  • I’m feeling quite angry at the moment, because a well-respected and well-read news agency has posted a story, which has been picked up by a lot of well-read sites, that has the title “Massa in Life-Threatening Condition After Surgery”.

    The article has taken the comments of AEK’s medical director Peter Bazso slightly out of context, and now the headline is being spread around the Internet as news sites post the story without thinking for themselves and checking the facts out fully.

    Peter Bazso said:

    Massa’s condition is serious, life-threatening but stable.

    I read that as, yes, Felipe has suffered something that is life-threatening, but following surgery, is now stable.

    I know we all make mistakes, nobody more so than myself, but for a huge news reporting agency like the Associated Press, I expect more accurate reporting. I do not expect pieces to be titled in a way that hopes to gain more readers by portraying a potentially very false message.

    Perhaps a better headline would have been: “Massa Stable After Life-Threatening Injuries”.

  • I’m doubting whether we’ll see Massa back behind the wheel again by Valencia. James Allen let on that recuperation would take some time and estimates seem to circulate around at least six weeks or so.

  • Okay, here goes…

    Following a conversation on Twitter, I’ve written a piece about head protection and Formula One. It is a balanced post (in my opinion) that asks if Formula One should became a closed-cockpit series. As in, should there be some kind of canopy surrounding the currently exposed head and helmet of a driver. I will NOT publish this piece yet. But I am interested in general opinion (ie. non-specific), and this may influence the post further prior to publishing.

    Further comments on this post will be very carefully moderated by myself. Please show respect when offering your opinion, especially given the week that motor sport has been through.

  • I was just wondering about the closed cockpit thing myself. After Surtees last weekend and now Massa, you have to assume the calls are going to grow. My understanding about closed vs. open cockpits is that is has to do with how quickly a driver can evacuate from a car. From what I have read, back in the old days, car fires were a larger issue, and thus getting out from an open cockpit was much easier. If, as seems to be the case, car fires are very rare nowadays, is it time for a closed cockpit?

    I don’t know the answer myself, frankly I don’t know enough about the engineering of the whole thing. However, there has to be someone who can answer the question – what is more likely to harm drivers – flying debris into an open cockpit, or being trapped in a closed cockpit during or after an incident?

    As a fan, I don’t really care. It’s not like we can really see the drivers’ faces as it is.

  • Before anything else, my thoughts and prayers go out to Felipe and his family. Thakfully he survivied the accident and is apparently in a stable condition. All the best to him, and I hope we hear more good news on race day and beyond.

    After the accidents this week, it may very well be time to introduce some form of closed cockpit. I ma unsure how this would happen and what form it would take, but surely it will be brought up, as it must be when a driver’s safety is central to the issue.

    Ollie, my compliments on the issue of Massa’s head movement and the possibility of his helmet striking the steering wheel. I had not considered this at first, but it is a central detail in the events leading up to Felipe’s current condition. I look forward to your post on head/neck safety- such topics were greatly discussed over here after the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 2001, and while the type of car was obviously much different, Earnhardt’s views on head/neck restraints are often seen as being critical to his death. You may want to have a brief look at the issue before posting your final work.

    Again, all the best to Felipe.

  • Get well soon Felipe, I feel a bit rotten after the slating I was giving him last year, but I wouldn`t wish such a terrible injury on anyone. I`ve been reading up on the polycarbanite all glass cockpits that are used in the F22, it makes interesting reading, as this will the road F1 might have to go down. Cant wait to read your post.

  • I too am interested to see how the FIA tackle the open cockpit issues in light of the last 10 days!!

    From my point of view I can’t see why F1 couldn’t be a closed cock pit. Pros – aerodynamics, drivers rarely having to get in or out (apart from obvious crash scenarios), obvious safety aspects and driver safety during rain but also a con if it mists up! Cons – releasing a driver after a crash, heat in the cockpit, already a hot environment but even more so and finally misting if it is raining so ventilation again!

    Race cars seen at the Le Mans series can either be closed (P1) or open (P2) and they see a lot of driver change overs so why can’t the FIA use them as research.

    Realistically I think the FIA will look more towards a P2 set up where the F1 car has a bigger windscreen. I think it has all the positive aspects of a fully enclosed cockpit but safer because you can still release the driver quick enough!

    On the up side we may see the F1 cars take a new direction in terms of their design and look! However on the down side, Henry died and Felipe very nearly could have done 🙁

    God speed, good health and happiness to all in the world!

Follow BlogF1