The qualifying session for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix will likely go down as one of the oddest in recent memory, with an accident for Felipe Massa caused by an errant piece of rear suspension from the Brawn GP of Rubens Barrichello hitting the Ferrari star on the helmet – and a first pole position in 32 races for double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso, though due to a timing failure, the man himself didn't actually realise he had done it.
In cooler conditions than the previous day during practice, and with strong winds blowing, the all-important top ten shoot-out got underway without Massa, still in the Hungaroring's medical centre following his blow to the head and hefty impact with the circuit's tyre barriers [see separate story – click here
The men on the move to begin with were Alonso, Heikki Kovalainen, Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton – seeking a consecutive hat-trick of Hungarian poles – and the in-form Red Bull Racing pairing of German Grand Prix winner Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, but with the lap times continually tumbling, it could have gone one of a number of ways.
Confusion then swiftly set in, however, as F1's official timing system went down, leaving drivers, teams, spectators and commentators alike all in the dark as to who was going quickly and who wasn't. With chaos reigning in parc fermé afterwards, the drivers knew what times they personally had done – but not how fast any of their rivals had been. Alonso approached every one of his Q3 competitors to enquire about their lap times, and even as he stood on the scales to be weighed the Spaniard still seemed unsure that he had clinched the top spot.
Delayed celebrations they may have been for the Oviedo native and his Renault crew, but celebrations they nonetheless were, as the news was confirmed amidst a farcical ending to a qualifying hour that had endured for almost an hour-and-a-half. Alongside Alonso on the front row of the grid will be Vettel, with the sport's youngest-ever grand prix-winner ably backed up by team-mate Webber in third, though the Australian arguably has the better position for the start, being on the grippier inside line.
The top ten was completed by Hamilton, Rosberg, Kovalainen, Kimi Raikkonen – who spoiled his initial effort with a scrappy end to the lap – Jenson Button, the improving Kazuki Nakajima for the third time in the last five races and the luckless Massa, though whether the latter will be able to take the start of the race remains unclear. The world championship leader only ventured out for a single run towards the end of the ten-minute segment, following suspension checks to his Mercedes-powered BGP 001 in an effort to ensure that he would encounter no similar failure to that of Barrichello.
The Red Bulls had swiftly proven to be on the pace in Q2, and Webber would wind up in P1 at the end of the 15-minute session, with Hamilton and the impressive Nakajima separating the New South Wales ace from the sister RB5 of Vettel in fourth. The reigning world champion, indeed, survived an off-track moment at turn four en route
, but there would be far greater dramas in the same corner later on for Massa, who was hit on the helmet by a piece of flying debris, shot off-piste and embedded his Ferrari firmly in the tyre barriers. Though the Brazilian was eighth-quickest, behind team-mate Raikkonen, Button and Kovalainen, it took some time to extract the concussed São Paulista from his car, and the 28-year-old would take no further part in the action.
Alonso and early pace-setter Rosberg completed the Q3 graduates, with Sébastien Buemi narrowly missing out in the upgraded Scuderia Toro Rosso STR4, and Toyota duo Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock similarly falling at the second hurdle. There they were accompanied by birthday boy Nelsinho Piquet – confessing to having pushed a bit too hard in the upgraded Renault R29 for the first time – and, most surprisingly of all, Barrichello, the nine-time grand prix-winner blaming his broken rear suspension for not making it into the top ten for the first time all year. Brawn GP, indeed, looked to be far from the force they had been earlier on in the campaign, with Button only hauling himself to safety in sixth right at the end.
Raikkonen, too, at one stage appeared to be in perilous waters, with both of Maranello's drivers struggling for grip throughout and enduring a number of grassy moments, whilst Kovalainen's expected form was not overly apparent, with the defending race-winner making it through to the top ten shoot-out – but only just.