The injuries to Felipe Massa from the blow he received to the head during qualifying for this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix may be more serious than initially reported, it is feared, with the news that the Brazilian is in intensive care in hospital and is due to undergo surgery for damage to his skull.
Towards the end of the Q2 phase of qualifying around the Hungaroring, Massa was struck by a piece of the rear suspension of Rubens Barrichello's Brawn GP, which had become detached from his compatriot's car and flew back down the track, glancing the Ferrari star on the helmet just above his left eye.
That sent the 28-year-old across the grass at turn four and head-on into the circuit barriers at around 125mph – having been able to fleetingly apply the brakes along the way, ostensibly upon regaining consciousness – with his F60 becoming heavily embedded in the tyres and rescue crews taking some time to extract him from the cockpit.
After being examined at the track's medical centre, Massa was transferred by helicopter to the AEK military hospital in the capital of Budapest, where his general condition is described as said to be 'stable' and 'conscious'. The São Paulista is now to undergo surgery after a complete medical examination revealed that he had suffered a fracture to his skull in two places, a cut to his forehead and concussion, and Ferrari confirmed he will remain 'under observation in intensive care' following the operation.
The accident happened less than a week on from that which tragically killed Henry Surtees – son of 1964 F1 World Champion and motorcycling legend John Surtees – in a Formula Two outing at Brands Hatch. The 18-year-old was hit on the helmet by a wheel that had flown off the car in front of him after its driver had crashed and bounced back onto the track, in what has been described as a 'freak' occurrence. Surtees sadly died later in hospital.
In the wake of that incident, Barrichello called for further improvements to be made to safety within motor racing, suggesting that 15 years on from the death of his idol and close friend Ayrton Senna in the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola – the last fatality in the top flight – what happened to Surtees was a warning sign that the sport cannot afford to relent or rest on its laurels in terms of what it has achieved over the intervening period.
“I honestly don't believe in coincidences in life,” the most experienced driver in F1 history is quoted as having said by the BBC
, after going to visit Massa in hospital, where he described his compatriot as being 'in shock' and, 'considering the gravity of the accident, in okay shape'. “Things happen for a reason, and I think this is the second message. Imola was a message and the cars were improved. Unfortunately, we lost a boy (Surtees), which is tremendously sad.
“It is not a coincidence [that] something happened right now. In the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers' Association) we talked quite a lot about it yesterday – and something needs to be done, absolutely, but I don't know what. We need to sit down and have a look at it. I think the cars are a hell of a lot safer, really a lot safer, but there is no coincidence in this and something needs to be looked at.”
Brawn GP team principal Ross Brawn admitted that the Brackley-based outfit was 'naturally concerned' about Massa's condition, whilst McLaren-Mercedes counterpart Martin Whitmarsh described it as 'a shock' and a sign that nobody should ever allow themselves to become complacent regarding the inherent dangers in the sport.