In sickness and health - a year on from Felipe Massas accident 30 Jul 2010
McLarens Lewis Hamilton may have won last years Hungarian Grand Prix, but the 2009 event was dominated by the accident which befell Ferraris Felipe Massa during qualifying. A year on, we look back at the events of the Budapest weekend, which would see Massa ruled out of the rest of the season, and evaluate the Brazilians extraordinary return to top-flight racing.
Ahead of qualifying Massa had looked fairly comfortable in his Ferrari, clocking the seventh-fastest time in Saturdays final practice session, and as qualifying got underway he was equally swift. But during the closing moments of Q2, whilst running eighth, he suddenly speared off the track at Turn Four of the Hungaroring and ploughed straight into a tyre wall.
Later replays showed a spring from the central rear damper of Rubens Barrichellos Brawn falling off and striking Massas helmet. The paddock held its collective breath as the safety car came out and medics attempted to extricate the injured Brazilian. After such a high-speed crash, the Ferrari was badly damaged and it took time, delaying the start of Q3.
When hed been freed from the car, Massa was rushed to the medical centre for an initial examination and then on to Budapests AEK Hospital for further treatment. Although stable and conscious, he had a cut on his forehead, concussion and a fractured skull. He went into surgery soon after and following a successful operation remained under observation in intensive care.
So on Sunday morning, rather than waking up ready to race, Massa woke up in hospital. A CT scan followed and then he was placed in an induced coma to aid his recovery. Back at the track, a subdued Ferrari marked his absence with a poignant pit board bearing the words 'Forza Felipe - siamo con te' (Strength Felipe - we are with you).Team mate Kimi Raikkonen raced alone, eventually finishing in second place.
On Monday evening, Ferrari revealed the Brazilian was awake and speaking to family, friends and medical staff and by Tuesday the news was even more positive with his doctor hopeful hed leave hospital within 10 days. A day later, he left intensive care and the following week he was well enough to return home to Brazil.
Massas long-term recovery would, of course, take much longer and Ferrari chose to draft in his former team mate - and seven-time world champion - Michael Schumacher to take over his cockpit until he was ready to return. But Schumachers comeback eventually proved short-lived when an old neck injury began to play up on a test outing ahead of his race return.
Instead Ferrari were forced to call on the services of veteran test driver Luca Badoer, who filled in for Massa in Valencia and Belgium, but struggled to make much of an impression. With the news from Brazil that Massa would need to sit out the rest of the season to recuperate fully, the Italian team poached Giancarlo Fisichella from Force India to take over the race seat. Fisichella, however, also found it difficult to shine, especially in qualifying, and his best result for the Scuderia was his ninth-place finish at the Italian Grand Prix.
Massa was clearly much missed and back in Brazil he was already busy getting back in shape for his return in 2010. Waving the chequered flag at the Brazilian Grand Prix and visiting the team during the Abu Dhabi event was scant reward for a driver eager to go racing again and in November, Massa was delighted to be back behind the wheel of his F60, even if it was only a demonstration run at Ferraris traditional post-season celebrations.
His competitive race return came at the end of November in his his annual International Challenge of the Stars karting event. And it was clear that his skill and will to win were very much intact, as he beat Michael Schumacher to one heat win, going on to finish second overall to his former team mate. A week later he went one better with victory in the 500 Miles of Granja Viana kart race near Sao Paulo, dedicating the win to his newly-born first son Felipinho.
The now fully-fit Brazilian then had to patiently wait a few more months for his F1 return, and by then there was a major difference at Ferrari - a new team mate in two-time world champion Fernando Alonso. Even so, at the season opener it was the same determined Massa in the cockpit. He out-qualified the Spaniard, though Alonso then took first blood and won the Bahrain race. Massa was second.
Despite Ferraris dominant start to the season, tough times have followed and they had to wait until last weekends German Grand Prix to win again. Partly due to insufficient development pace and partly sheer poor luck, Alonso and Massa only appeared on the podium three times over nine races, and it was Alonso who took the lions share (two to one). On Saturdays too, the Spaniard has led the way, out-qualifying Massa eight-three. Even so Massa did briefly head the drivers standings for a spell.
But he has gradually dropped back through the ranks and is currently lying eighth in the standings. However, there is no suggestion that this lull in form has anything to do with his accident, and Massa himself has blamed his struggles on Bridgestones harder tyres, which dont seem to suit his driving style quite as well as they do Alonsos.
At the recent Hockenheim race, which coincidentally took place on the anniversary of his accident, Massa appeared once again to have found his footing. An excellent start saw him take the lead from third on the grid, and even after the teams controversial machinations allowed Alonso to claim the lead, the Brazilian still took a strong second place.
Just a week on, he has returned to the Hungaroring for the first time since his accident for this weekends Hungarian Grand Prix. At the top of his to do list was a visit to see all the track and medical staff who helped him during those first critical moments after last years freak accident. Surely, his next will be to try and take his first win of the season. The question is will rivals Red Bull and McLaren, or for that matter his own team, allow him to do just that?