Tyre causes Hakkinen to crash

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Motor racing

A flat rear left tyre may have caused the accident which led to Mika Hakkinen suffering serious head injuries during the first qualifying session for the Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide.

Hakkinen lost control of his McLaren and crashed into a wall at the 100mph- plus Malthouse Bend. He was taken to the Royal Adelaide hospital, where his condition was described as stable.

The 27-year-old Finn is under sedation and on a ventilator. A joint statement by Syd Watkins, the medical delegate for the sport's governing body, the FIA, and Dr Brendon Kearney, the chief executive of the hospital, said this treatment was normal for the management of head injuries.

The statement said: "While the neurological situation will be unpredictable for the next few days, progress so far is satisfactory. Scans and X-ray investigations show no evidence of other serious injuries."

The cause of the accident has not officially been disclosed but Ron Dennis, the head of the McLaren team, was reported as saying that, after studying computer data and inspecting the damaged car, he believed a flat rear left-hand tyre caused Hakkinen to lose control. The loss of tyre pressure almost certainly was caused by running over debris on the track, he added.

"No other damage whatsoever was found to the rear of the car," Dennis said. "At moments like these, you are a family sharing a mixture of emotions. Mika is in good hands and our thoughts will be with him through the next critical few days."

Goodyear, which supplies all tyres used by all the teams, said that three rear left tyres inspected by them had been found with cuts in them during the session. The cars were Pedro Lamy's Minardi, Johnny Herbert's Benetton, and Hakkinnen's.

Goodyear officials said that the cuts may have been caused by debris, kerbs or manhole covers on the tricky, fast and slippery street circuit. Sunday's race will be the last to be held in Adelaide, with the event moving to Melbourne next year.

Hakkinnen's car slid backwards, hit a kerb then spun through nearly 360 degrees before smashing into the barriers. The corner, a fast right-hander, is the quickest on the track.

Herbert also spun off during the session and Mark Blundell, in the second McLaren, came off at the same place as Hakkinnen, whose accident was the worst this year.

Ukyo Katayama escaped with slight injuries after his Tyrrell turned over at the start of the Portuguese Grand Prix in September, and Aguri Suzuki suffered a fractured rib in practice for the Japanese Grand Prix last month.

The qualifying session was halted for 42 minutes. When it resumed, Damon Hill took provisional pole position ahead of his Williams team-mate David Coulthard. Gerhard Berger, in a Ferrari, and Michael Schumacher, in a Benetton, were third and fourth. Coulthard led for most of the session but Hill eclipsed his best time in the final two minutes. Hill's time was 1min 15.505sec, an average speed of 111.99mph.

Berger, asked about Hakkinnen's crash, said: "It looked as if he had a problem with the left rear side of his car. The right front wheel seemed to be off the ground at the start of the accident and he took off when he hit the kerb. It looked as if something may have failed or there was a puncture."

Coulthard, qualifying in Adelaide for the first time, said: "It's a very tricky circuit. It is much more bumpy than I expected. It is a street circuit which always means that if you go off, you are in trouble."

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX (Adelaide): Provisional positions after first qualifying session: 1 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 1min 15.05sec (111.99mph); 2 D Coulthard (GB) Williams-Renault 1:15.628; 3 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari 1:15.923; 4 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Renault 1:16.039; 5 R Barrichello (Br) Jordan- Peugeot 1:16.725; 6 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber-Ford 1:16.837; 7 E Irvine (GB) Jordan-Peugeot 1:17.197; 8 J Herbert (GB) Benetton-Renault 1:17.289; 9 M Blundell (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 1:17.348; 10 M Brundle (GB) Ligier- Mugen Honda 1:17.778; 11 O Panis (Fr) Ligier-Mugen Honda 1:18.033; 12 M Salo (Fin) Tyrrell-Yamaha; 1:18.604; 13 G Morbidelli (It) Footwork-Hart 1:18.814; 14 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:18.828; 15 P Lamy (Por) Minardi-Ford 1:18.875; 16 L Badoer (It) Minardi-Ford 1:19.285; 17 K Wendlinger (Aut) Sauber-Ford 1:19.561; 18 T Inoue (Japan) Footwork-Hart 1:19.764; 19 R Moreno (Br) Forti-Ford 1:21.419; 20 A Montermini (It) Pacific-Ford 1:21.659; 21 P P Diniz (Br) Forti-Ford 1:22.154; 22 B Gachot (Fr) Pacific- Ford 1:22.881; 23 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1:37.998; 24 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari, no time recorded.