Massa satisfactory after life-threatening accident

BUDAPEST: Ferrari driver Felipe Massa underwent surgery on life-threatening skull injuries Saturday from a high-speed crash during Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying. He was in stable condition in the intensive care unit of a military hospital.

The accident happened when a loose part from another car hit Massa in the helmet, causing him to veer into a tire-lined barrier at about 120 mph. The front of his car was shredded, with both tires gone and the front nose open.

The 28-year-old Brazilian also sustained a concussion but was conscious when airlifted to AEK hospital, his team said.

"At the time he was admitted to hospital his condition was stable and he was breathing and blood circulation was normal," the Hungarian defense department said in a statement.

"During the course of his examination they established that he suffered a serious, life-threatening injuries, including loss of consciousness and a fracture of the forehead on the left side and a fracture on the base of the skull."

Massa underwent surgery about an hour after arriving at the hospital. Hospital doctors subsequently said his condition was "serious, life threatening but stable" at a news conference, but ultimately ruled the Formula One driver was in "stable, satisfactory condition."

A spring that had fallen off Rubens Barrichello's car flew up and struck Massa in the helmet. An apparently dazed Massa continued over a curb and across the track. He went through the gravel area along the circuit before slamming into the tire barrier.

The impact of the rear suspension part — a standard component that Brawn GP team principal Ross Brawn believed was made of steel — damaged the left side of Massa's helmet, ripping out the visor and leaving a long dent on its side. Blood was seen above Massa's left brow.

Barrichello, a fellow Brazilian, went to the medical center to check on Massa. He said Massa appeared to be doing fine despite the cut above his left eye.

"He was in shock," Barrichello told The Associated Press. "Considering the gravity of the accident, I think he's in OK shape."

Massa appeared to regain consciousness just before the crash at turn No. 4 because his front brakes seemed to lock ahead of the violent impact.

He remained in the car awhile and was assisted out before being taken to the medical center. He was then taken to the helicopter on a stretcher, wearing a neck brace.

The crash came less than a week after Henry Surtees, the son of former F1 champion John Surtees, died in an F2 race last Sunday. Surtees was struck in the head by a tire from another car, causing him to lose consciousness and drive into a barrier.

"It is not a coincidence that something happened right now," Barrichello told reporters. "Something needs to be done. Yes, absolutely."

No F1 driver has died on the track since three-time champion Ayrton Senna's crash at Imola 15 years ago.

The accident was also reminiscent of Heikki Kovalainen's high-speed crash at last year's Spanish GP, when the McLaren driver sped into a wall. Kovalainen spent the night in a hospital with a concussion.

"What happened to me in Barcelona was a very nasty accident. But I think it was a pretty freak accident and I don't know how to prevent that," Kovalainen said. "It was very unfortunate. But I think we should discuss it."

Surtees' death prompted drivers to discuss at length the issue of debris and head safety during their usual pre-race meeting Friday.

Renault's Fernando Alonso won the pole position for Sunday's race after qualifying was delayed for nearly 30 minutes because of Massa's accident.