Kovalainen crash has eerily familiar echo

The accident which befell McLaren driver Heikki Kovalainen occurred on the 22nd lap of the Spanish Grand Prix, when he was running in the lead during the first round of pit stops after winner Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa, Lewis Hamilton and Robert Kubica had all just refuelled.

It may have been caused by a wheel failure similar to that suffered during qualifying for the Grand Prix of Europe at the Nurburgring last year by Lewis Hamilton, when a front wheel broke.

It occurred as he entered Turn Nine, which is normally taken at 180mph in the sixth of seven gears.

The left front tyre deflated suddenly, and though the car lost some speed as it headed straight across the gravel bed, it still buried itself heavily into the protective tyre barrier exactly as Hamilton's car had last July.

For a while it looked like a very unpleasant replay of Hamilton's incident, and it took a while to extract and stabilise the Finn at the accident scene, but he gave a thumbs up as he was taken by stretcher to the medical centre. Later he was flown to hospital for precautionary checks, where his condition was described as stable. "I'm glad that Heikki is OK," Hamilton said with evident relief. "I came past and saw a car in the wall, but it just looked red so I wasn't sure if it was one of us or a Ferrari.

"Then I caught a glimpse of the accident on the TV footage [on one of the giant screens around the circuit] and it was very, very reminiscent of my incident last year at the Ring, so I was terrified for whoever it was.

"Then the team told me it was Heikki. Ron [Dennis] came on the radio halfway through and said he was OK but lightly concussed, so I'm sure he'll bounce back."

Hamilton said that he wasn't at all worried about something similar happening to his own car. "If you let those things get into your mind you're in trouble, you just put yourself in the wrong position.

"It never crossed my mind once. The team have done a great job and the car was very reliable, and that enabled me to push hard to finish."

Race winner Kimi Raikkonen also had his moments of concern for his fellow countryman.

"I didn't know which McLaren it was until my pit said it was Heikki," the world champion said. "Fortunately it looked worse than it was in the end. I'm happy that Heikki is OK."

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