Twenty four hours after qualifying, the grid was a little preoccupied with Felipe Massa’s injury. As the session finished yesterday, I was under the impression he was just a little shaken, but in truth, the outcome was worse than first thought. It was, however, far far better than it could have been.
As the drivers assembled on the grid, Massa was still in Intensive Care at a local hospital. The spring which fell off Rubens Barrichello’s car had hit Massa’s helmet above the left eye at around 120mph. The helmet stayed intact but the visor crumbled and Massa had a cut above his left eye, “bone damage” to the skull, and “brain concussion.”
With that in mind, there was a slightly sober feel to the grid as the party started. For his grid walk, Martin Brundle had Eddie Jordan alongside him. The dynamic didn’t really work as Jordan was far too busy talking to ask any questions. Brundle eventually gave up being polite and walked off, microphone in hand, leaving Jordan trailing behind him, still talking.
At the end of yesterday’s qualifying session, Massa’s accident had distracted from the fact that the timing system had gone down leading to the drivers scratching their heads and exchanging times to establish the pecking order. By the time the official results were announced, Mark Webber had to be pulled out of the shower to attend a press conference.
Speaking of Webber, after his first Grand Prix victory in Germany last time, the BBC had pre-recorded a film which featured Jake Humphrey cycling in the woods with Mark Webber. Bearing in mind that this is how he smashed up his leg over the winter, the beeb were taking a bit of a risk. I had visions of Humphrey ploughing into Webber’s bike and taking them both over a precipice. If it happened, they cut it out.
With the grid having such a diverse range of cars at the front, the start was crucial, and Alonso followed up his victory in qualifying with a terrific start. Behind him, though, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton battled through the first two corners to take up the chase. Sebastian Vettel, sitting on the front row on the grid, was seventh after the first two turns – a poor start followed by a bump in the crowd from Raikkonen on the first corner.
After a very fast first few laps, the lighter Alonso started to lose pace. Lewis Hamilton, who had overtaken Webber to seize second, was scorching towards him. On a short strategy, Alonso came in before Hamilton could catch him. Unfortunately, replays showed that the hapless mechanic on the right front tyre had not properly tightened the wheelnut. As Alonso went out, his wheel already looked wobbly, and within a minute, his tyre was bouncing off down the track.
A few laps later, Vettel seemed to suffer a similar problem to Barrichello’s in qualifying, something in his rear suspension failing. Afterwards, he would blame it on the bump from Raikkonen at the start. Whatever caused it, a pit stop failed to put it right and, within twenty laps, the two front row starters were out of the race.
Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton had snatched the lead after Alonso’s retirement and held it firmly. His first grand prix win since last year demonstrated that the changes McLaren made to their car had been very effective. The near-hysterical clip of his reaction on the in-car radio said everything about how pleased he was.
It was unexpected but it was no fluke. He was consistently the fastest driver on the course, the pit-stops worked perfectly, and he was never under any pressure.
Likewise, Brawn’s deteriorating performance can no longer be put down to misfortune. He may be leading the Championship, but Jenson Button only finished seventh, and Rubens Barrichello scuttled in tenth. It worked in their favour today that Hamilton and Raikkonen as it kept Mark Webber in third. The threat from Red Bull is very real and, with seven races still to go, this championship is far from over.
Qualifying – Hungarian Grand Prix Qualifying, 25th July 2009.
Last Grand Prix – German Grand Prix, 12th July 2009.