Formula One - Eleven down, six to go

Formula One - Eleven down, six to go

With six races to go, the battle for the 2009 championship isn't as clear as it was in the beginning of the season. The supremacy of the Brawn- Mercedes team has slowly decreased and Ross Brawn has, apart from a still very strong Red Bull team, ...

With six races to go, the battle for the 2009 championship isn't as clear as it was in the beginning of the season. The supremacy of the Brawn- Mercedes team has slowly decreased and Ross Brawn has, apart from a still very strong Red Bull team, another strong competitor to worry about, McLaren. McLaren has obviously found the leak that hampered their car's performance and have now joined the battle for the remaining points of the season. They are not a contender for the 2009 title anymore, but they can still make life miserable for Brawn and Red Bull. But first a flash-back to the Hungarian Grand Prix.

The wrecked Ferrari of Felipe Massa after his crash.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Disaster always strikes when you least expect it

After the chequered flag had been waved to end the second qualifying session, we saw the seemingly rudderless Ferrari of Felipe Massa flying through the grass, crossing the track and crash into the tyre wall. After the crash the engine remained revving at 80% of its power until the onboard computer decided it was enough and shut the engine down.

After some initial 'what the heck is going on here' moments, it dawned upon us that this was a serious accident. Massa was still moving in his car, but it was obvious that he could not get out of his car without assistance. The medical team arrived within seconds to assist the injured Ferrari driver. A few minutes later slow motions of the crash revealed what had happened.

A spring had worked its way loose from Rubens Barrichello's Brawn and had been bouncing around the track until the unfortunate Massa arrived at turn six where the spring hit his helmet and visor. Massa was extracted from his car and taken to the circuit's medical center. With the fatal accident of Henry Surtees -- just six days earlier - still in mind, everyone was relieved to see Massa waving his hands when he was rolled into the medical center on a stretcher.

He was quickly airlifted to the AEK Hospital in Budapest where doctors carried out life-saving surgery and put him into an induced coma. The next day doctors at the hospital reported that he had suffered no further complications. On Tuesday Massa was fully awake and speaking to his friends and doctors, and at the end of the week he left the hospital and was flown to his home town Sao Paulo.

The F1's governing body the FIA announced that they would investigate Massa's accident, but it will probably take a few weeks before they will come up with a report. Without jumping to any conclusions, there are a few things we can say about this accident. First and foremost, things do fall off racecars, over the years we have seen numerous tyres, wings and parts of bodywork fly and/or bounce around the track. I think it is safe to say that Massa was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. If he would have been just one-tenth of a second slower or faster, the spring would not have hit him.

It was just bad luck, and Massa was incredibly lucky that the metal spring didn't do more damage. It was a freak accident, and the chances that this will ever happen again are very slim. In 1995, during the Italian GP at Monza, the Ferrari of Gerhard Berger was hit by the onboard camera that fell off the car of Ferrari teammate Jean Alesi, destroying the front suspension and ultimately causing Berger to crash out of the race, another example of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

People are already talking about cockpit canopies to protect the drivers, but that will present other problems. I'm not going to bore you with the details, but instead I would like to refer to one of writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau's famous statements: "It is characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things". So let's wait and see what the FIA investigation tells us. Meanwhile I wish Felipe Massa a swift recovery and I sincerely hope we will see him back in the seat of his Ferrari for his home Grand Prix in October.

Fernando Alonso leads the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The Hungarian Grand Prix

After the dramatic accident of Felipe Massa, both Brawn cars were grounded and did not leave the garage again, and Button and Barrichello found themselves on eight and thirteenth place on the start grid. Not a very good position to start the race, it is notoriously difficult to overtake at the Hungarian Mickey Mouse circuit. Fernando Alonso drove his Renault to a surprise pole position, with Red Bull drivers Sebastian Vetter and Mark Webber taking second and third place. Alonso's teammate Nelson Piquet qualified fifteenth, fuelling the rumors that he would be out of a drive after the summer break. Spanish Toro Rosso rookie Jaime Alguersuari had a problem with his car, had to stop and ended up carrying the red lantern.

At the start of the race, Fernando Alonso managed to keep his first position, Kimi Raikkonen had a good start but collided with Sebastian Vettel in the first corner, Vettel's front suspension was damaged and he had to retire 29 laps later. Championship leader Jenson Button had a bad start, and was stuck at ninth place behind the Williams of Kazuki Nakajima. Lewis Hamilton was stuck behind Mark Webber but on the fourth lap he managed to overtake Webber on the outside of turn 2.

Meanwhile Alonso was pulling away from the rest of the field, but had qualified with a light car and had to pit early in lap 12. During his pit stop things went wrong, a wheel nut retainer on his right front wheel wasn't properly secured. After a few hundred meters the wheel came off the car and dangerously bounced around the track before ending in the tyre wall. With the Surtees and Massa accidents still in the back of their heads, the stewards of the race rewarded the Renault team with a one-race suspension. Alonso was able to get back to the pits for a new wheel, but had to retire with a broken fuel pump a few laps later.

Webber and Raikkonen pitted together in lap 19, but when the Red Bull team released Webber he almost ran into the Ferrari of Raikkonen, Webber had to back off and lost his second place to Raikkonen. After that the race became a bit boring, with Hamilton in first place, followed by Raikkonen and Webber. Behind them Nico Rosberg was in fourth place, and Heiki Kovalainen and Timo Glock in fifth and sixth place.

Both Brawns were struggling with their tyres and were not able to defend their championship lead. Button took seventh and Barrichello tenth place. Hamilton was delighted with his first race win of the season, Raikkonen did a superb job for Ferrari by taking second place and was joined on the podium by Webber, who claimed third place.

Summer break with Schumacher, Piquet, Renault and BMW

There was plenty of entertainment during the annual Formula One summer break. With Felipe Massa sidelined and recovering from his injuries, Ferrari needed a replacement driver. Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo surprised everyone when he announced there had been talks with seven times world champion Michael Schumacher to replace Massa. Schumacher said he would be more than happy to help out his old team, and the media immediately jumped on the story, and for two weeks the possible return of Schumacher dominated the Formula One news headlines all over the world.

Michael Schumacher, Scuderia Ferrari, tests the F2007 in preparation for his comeback.
Photo by xpb.cc.

With the in-season testing ban still in place, it would be difficult for Schumacher to make himself familiar with the Ferrari F60. Ferrari asked the FOTA if Schumacher could test the new car, but the request was turned down. After a private test session in an old 2007 Ferrari at the circuit of Mugello, Schumacher revealed at a press conference a few days later that his neck injury he sustained earlier this year when he crashed a motor bike, was playing up again, and the 40-year old driver had to abandon his comeback plans.

Renault confirmed that Nelson Piquet would be replaced by Romain Grosjean, team boss Flavio Briatore was very unhappy with the results of Piquet. Both father and son Piquet were very disappointed and angry about this decision and started a war of words in the media, but Renault and Briatore very wisely kept their mouth shut and Piquet will be watching the next race from his home in Brazil.

The next surprise was the shock announcement from the BMW-Sauber team, BMW's board of directors had decided that BMW would end their F1 activities after the 2009 season. FIA president Max Mosley took advantage of the situation by saying he was right after all when he proposed his budget cap plans for 2010. Whatever the truth is, the FIA now has to find a replacement for the BMW-Sauber team, but it remains to be seen if the teams who are on the FIA shortlist are still interested to fill the gap.

The Renault team had appealed the decision of the Hungarian race stewards to ban them from the European Grand Prix, arguing they did not deliberately send Alonso back on the track. They also thought the one-race suspension was a very harsh penalty, and also argued that the absence of Fernando Alonso in Valencia would be a disaster for the race promoters and the fans. The FIA Court of Appeal overturned the race ban and Renault was allowed to race at Valencia, but had to pay a 50,000 Euro fine.

The European Grand Prix

Luca Badoer replaced Felipe Massa during the European Grand Prix, but it soon became apparent that he wasn't ready for the job at all. During qualifying he ended up on the 20th place, almost 2 seconds slower than Jaime Alguersuari in his Toro Rosso. Renault rookie Romain Grosjean, who had no experience with the Renault whatsoever, qualified in 14th place. McLaren driver Heiki Kovalainen did exactly what his team boss Martin Whitmarsh expected him to do (Whitmarsh had warned him that if he wanted to keep his job at McLaren he had to improve his performance) and qualified second behind team mate Lewis Hamilton. Rubens Barrichello was third, Sebastian Vettel fourth and Jenson Button fifth.

At the start of the race, Hamilton led the field, followed by Kovalainen and Barrichello. Raikkonen took fourth place after overtaking Button and Vettel, while Grosjean, Buemi and Glock made contact and the three of them had to pit for repairs. Button cut the chicane during the first lap, and after Webber mentioned this on the radio, the Brawn team decided it would be better to let Webber past again, instead of waiting for a drive through penalty imposed by the marshalls.

After the first round of pit stops, Hamilton was still leading the race, with Brarrichello in second and Kovalainen in third position. Vettel had a problem with the fuel rig during his stop, and had to go back to the pit again to refuel. But it wasn't Vettel's lucky day and on lap 25 his Renault engine blew up. Another race without points.

During the second pit stop the McLaren team made an error and Hamilton came in one lap too early. When he stopped the tyres weren't ready and he had to wait 6 or 7 seconds before the tyres were put on his car, just enough time for Barrichello to take over the lead. Barrichello continued to lead until the chequered flag. Hamilton took second place, followed by Raikkonen, Kovalainen, Roisberg, Alonso, Button and Kubica.

Luca Badoer, Scuderia Ferrari.
Photo by xpb.cc.

It wasn't Luca Badoer's lucky day either, he spinned a few times, and crossed the finish line as number 17 of the 18 cars that had finished. Barrichello was very pleased with his first win since 2004. It was his tenth win in 279 races, but he didn't care that much about the statistics, and edicated his win to Brazil, and of course especially to fellow countryman Felipe Massa. And to be honest, the race was a bit boring, and was only interesting due to the misfortunes of Red Bull drivers Vettel and Webber, who are now as a result of that, third and fourth in the championship.

Next race

The Belgium Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps is quite a different ball game. Not a narrow street circuit without overtaking opportunities, but a circuit with long sweeping high speed corners and long straights, and of course the famous Eau Rouge section which still poses a challenge for all F1 drivers. Unfortunately, sofar only 45,000 tickets have been sold, which will probably result in a multi million dollar loss for the famous Belgium circuit. Bernie Ecclestone already revealed he would not lower the fee for organizing the race in the near future, and many fans fear that this could spell the end of the Belgium Grand Prix.

With Button (72 points) and Barrichello (54 points) leading the championship, the numbers three and four Webber (51.5 points) and Vettel (47 points) will be very eager to score some more points, if they don't score in Belgium, their chances of winning the championship this year will dramatically decrease. And let's not forget the McLaren team, they have become a lot stronger and McLaren drivers Hamilton and Kovalainen are certainly a force to be reckoned with.

So, if you haven't purchased any tickets for the Belgium Grand Prix yet, do it now, I'm sure you won't be disappointed. Spa is a beautiful circuit, and this year the stakes are high, the championship could be decided here, every point is important. Enjoy it.

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About this article
Series General , Formula 1
Drivers Jenson Button , Luca Badoer , Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , Mark Webber , Jean Alesi , Kimi Raikkonen , Fernando Alonso , Gerhard Berger , Luca di Montezemolo , Ross Brawn , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Nelson Piquet , Flavio Briatore , Nico Rosberg , Timo Glock , Sebastian Vettel , Kazuki Nakajima , Romain Grosjean , Bernie Ecclestone , Henry Surtees , Jaime Alguersuari
Teams Sauber , Toro Rosso , Williams