Massa may never race again after eye damage

But Brazilian starts to 'reply to questions and move limbs' after freak accident
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Felipe Massa's Formula One career appears to be in the balance following confirmation that he has suffered serious damage to his left eye.

More positively for the Brazilian, he has been brought out of an artificial coma, taken off a respirator and has been able to communicate with his doctors and family representatives, his doctors said yesterday.

"His condition has improved significantly over the past 24 hours and he remains stable," Lajos Zsiros, the chief surgeon of Hungary's defence forces, said. "We have ended sedation and taken him off the respirator. He's sleepy but has been able to reply to questions and has been able to move his limbs adequately."

Dino Altmann, Massa's personal physician, said the Brazilian's condition was reassuring. "He's awake, he has been answering questions, he has been asking what has happened to him," said Altmann, who added that the Massa family is happy with the care the injured driver is receiving at the military hospital and moving him was not currently on the agenda.

Massa suffered a fractured skull in an accident during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix on Saturday when he was hit just above his left eye by a bouncing spring, weighing almost a kilo, that broke free from his compatriot Rubens Barrichello's Brawn car.

Doctors have not yet been able to assess fully the chances of his eye recovering. Professor Robert Veres, the surgeon who operated on Massa over the weekend, said: "He has suffered some damage to the eye. We don't know if he'll be able to race again." Even with the best-case scenario of a complete recovery, Professor Veres said it is likely that Massa, runner-up in the championship to Lewis Hamilton last year, is likely to miss the rest of the season.

The Ferrari president, Luca di Montezemolo, who flew to visit his employee yesterday, said his team will consider his possible replacement later. "For us, the first priority is to find out Felipe's recovery progress and situation," Di Montezemolo said. "Felipe is a very important member of the Ferrari family, not just the Ferrari team.

"First priority now is to find out the situation with him and then we will see and we will think, without pressure. Only then will we make a decision and if we have to make a decision we will make a good one," he said.

Massa will not be replaced for the remainder of the season by the multiple world champion Michael Schumacher despite speculation that the German would return to help Ferrari, according to his manager Willi Weber.

Back on the track, Jenson Button fears his Formula One world title dreams will slip through his fingers unless his team arrest the current slide. Following his sixth win from the opening seven races in Turkey at the start of last month, Button and Brawn GP appeared unbeatable. Button held a 26-point lead to team-mate Barrichello, with Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber 33.5 points adrift, and it appeared to be a case of when, not if, the 29-year-old would be crowned.

But three races later – three in which Button and Brawn have been off the pace – Webber, in particular, has slashed 15 points out of the Briton's lead to become his nearest challenger.

"I feel like I'm wearing the yellow jersey knowing that when I get to the mountains I'm going to be useless and overtaken," Button said. "I've lost 15 points to Webber over the last three races, which is massive – five points per race. He'll be in front of me in four races' time, and there are seven races left, so it's not a comfortable lead. We're leading the championship, but it is inevitable they are going to overtake us if the performances keep going like they are. We've got to sort it out."