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.
- Previous post on Massa, as the accident happened during qualifying: Hungary 2009: Felipe Massa Crashes Out Of Qualifying.
- Live post (at the time) of Heikki Kovalainen impacting the tyre barrier during the 2008 Spanish Grand Prix: Heikki Kovalainen Suffers High-Speed Incident.
- Heikki Kovalainen recovers well from accident and praises the safety measures of the cars and circuits: Kovalainen Pays Tribute To Strong Car & Attentive Staff.