The accident that befell Felipe Massa in the second session of qualifying yesterday cast a dark shadow over the Hungaroring, for it was horribly reminiscent of the one which claimed the life of young Henry Surtees, the son of motorcycle and car world champion John Surtees, at Brands Hatch a week ago.
Surtees suffered fatal injuries when he was struck on the head by an errant wheel in a Formula Two race; on the 260kph, sixth-gear approach to Turn Four, Massa was struck on the left side of his helmet by a 1kg spring from the rear suspension of fellow Brazilian Rubens Barri- chello's Brawn, running four seconds ahead. Massa was stunned and his Ferrari crashed head-on into the tyre wall on the outside of the corner.
After receiving attention in the circuit's medical centre, where he spoke with doctors and his younger brother Eduardo, he was airlifted to the AEK Hospital in Budapest with concussion and a skull fracture which necessitated remedial surgery.
At eight o'clock last night a report claimed that medical director Peter Bazso told a news conference: "Massa's condition is serious, life-threatening but stable." It also said that Bazso and chief surgeon Lajos Zsiros expected him to be awoken from sedation today. A Ferrari spokesman vehemently denied the report and said Massa was stable and not in danger.
Poignantly, Massa had sent a message of condolence to the Surtees family last Monday in which he said: "I heard about Henry Surtees' death this morning and it really moved me a lot. I'm so sorry for this tragedy and I'm close to his family in this moment of great sorrow. These things remind us how much safety has to remain the priority on the track and in all the other places of motorsport. Over the last years much has been done, but we can't be inattentive."
The start of final qualifying was delayed 22 minutes, and ended in chaos as the FIA timing system failed at the very moment when everyone needed to know the top 10 lap times. "We were all standing around chatting, asking each other what times they had done," Fernando Alonso said. The German Grand Prix winner, Mark Webber, added: "I heard several drivers had done one minute 21.6sec laps, so I thought I had no chance and was headed for the shower when they called me back and told me I was third."
It transpired Alonso had taken pole position. "That was a successful qualifying," the former champion said. "This is a fantastic effort from the team. We have new stuff on the car which worked well at the Nürburgring, and here we confirmed the step forward. There is still more work to do, but we finally found a good direction to work in. We will try to win, but being honest and realistic our target is to get some good points."
Victory is likely, yet again, to be the province of those seemingly unstoppable Red Bulls which have put Brawn on their back foot. Sebastian Vettel had a lot more fuel on board than Alonso (655 kg compared to 637.5), and more too than Mark Webber (652).
Webber admitted that a mistake cost him a little time. "It was a bit on the edge today, but I was confident and we got a good result."
The Red Bull boys would have liked the front row to themselves, but they were boosted by the fact that title rival Jenson Button had his worst qualifying session of the season and will line up eighth, a second off Alonso's time after running with 654.5kg fuel weight.
"I thought we would be competitive in Q3 but unfortunately the work required on the car meant that I was only able to get one run and that was on a heavy fuel load with four more laps of fuel than we had planned," Button said. "We were on the edge of the working range for the tyres today with the cooler temperatures so the car wasn't handling quite as well as in practice. Starting from eighth on the grid isn't ideal."
Red Bull's greatest threat, certainly at the start of the race, could come from Lewis Hamilton, who believes he would have finished second in Germany but for the incident with Webber in the first corner. With the accelerative thrust of his KERS system he will be very hard to resist on the long run to the first turn.
It was so hard out there this afternoon," he said. "Maybe we could have been closer to the front because my final lap wasn't a great one, but fourth is a good position. We're still not quick enough and need to keep pushing but, none the less, it feels great to be back up there competing for the first few rows on the grid."