Lewis Hamilton has been taken to the Nurburgring medical centre on a stretcher after a heavy crash brought his qualifying for the European Grand Prix to an abrupt halt.

In the middle of his first flying lap in top ten shootout, the right-front corner of Hamilton's McLaren-Mercedes MP4-22 suffered a sudden failure on the entry to the high-speed left-right Schumacher S, sending him spearing head on into the tyre barriers.

Hamilton was slow to exit the car, and could be seen moving his legs on the onboard camera. The Briton was attended to at the scene for some time before being taken away to the medical centre. McLaren has confirmed that they do not think he is seriously hurt, but official sources will only say that he is 'conscious and talking'.

The reason for the crash remains unknown as of yet, but speculation ranged from a puncture to wheel or suspension failure. Team boss Ron Dennis has since revealed that there was a failure on one of the team's wheel guns which meant that the right front wheel was not attached properly. The same gun had been used to fit team-mate Fernando Alonso's right front, but the Spaniard had not started to press on his flying lap at the point, while Hamilton was already six-tenths up on the target time when he went off.

Dennis has also reported that Hamilton is generally uninjured, with confirmation that the championship leader has not suffered any broken bones and did not lose consciousness. He will be kept under observation as a precaution, essentially to check on his condition as and when shock sets in, and Hamilton may be moved to a nearby hospital if deemed necessary. No comment was forthcoming regarding his participation in Sunday's grand prix.

If he is able to start, Hamilton's failure to set a 'real' flying lap could leave him starting tenth, although a spot on row four is more likely given the relative pace of those involved in the final phase of qualifying. Whatever the outcome, the Briton's run of podiums could be at risk.