F1 Winter Break
Massa out of GP but lucky to be alive
Massa out of GP but lucky to be alive
Posted By: James Allen  |  25 Jul 2009   |  3:28 pm GMT  |  55 comments

Felipe Massa will not race tomorrow in the Hungarian Grand Prix after he suffered a heavy accident having been hit in the head by a spring, from Rubens Barrichello’s car.

Mass cut2

Massa was travelling at around 175mph on the run down to Turn 4 when a spring from the Brawn’s rear suspension bounced up and hit him on the helmet, ripping one corner of his visor off and cutting Massa’a eye.

The Brazilian remained conscious but had to be heavily sedated and was sent off for examination at the Budapest central Hospital.

I’ve spoken to someone who has held the spring in question and it is around five inches long, coiled metal and quite heavy. Massa is incredibly lucky to have survived an impact like that with only light injuries.

The incident comes less than a week after Henry Surtees was struck on the head by a wheel and killed at Brands Hatch in a Formula 2 race and the mood in the F1 paddock is quite sombre at the moment.

Featured News
Editor's Picks
Share This:
Posted by:

Add comment

E-mail is already registered on the site. Please use the Login form or enter another.

You entered an incorrect username or password

Sorry that something went wrong, repeat again!

Yes, agree, we do not want another McLaren type persecution, oops prosecution! Like after Senna’s accident, which dragged on and on in the courts in Italy.


Watching the bbc footage frame by frame from Massa’s car again, I see now that the spring was indeed bouncing, whereas at the time it looked like it went under the front left wheel and was thrown upwards.

I am wondering if the infamous Brawn rear diffuser, played a major part in this, blowing the spring higher in the air.

If the spring “dropped” from Ruben’s car it would take less than a second to hit the ground, if it merely “fell”; so it must have been propelled either up or down to still be airborne some 4 seconds later.

I suspect it was ejected with considerable force and after bouncing off the inside of the body and possibly the rear wing it then finally bounced off the track. The timing must indicate that it bounced several times before being released on to the track. OR it was thrown into a high arc, some other spectator videos could verify if this was the case, although the fact that it remained in the same path along the track would lessen the chance of this. (“It’s the time loss factor Scully” as Mulder would say)



If you look at the airflow of an F1 car – you can see, particularly visible in the wet – that a massive updraft of air is created in its wake. These massive ‘rooster tails’ of air currents would have projected the spring regardless of the novel system of rear diffuser that Brawn currently use.

Let’s not forget that the ground beneath Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn car was moving at circa 100 miles per hour at the time the spring came off.

The effect on a spring from the rapid movement of the ground from *any* car travelling at this speed would translate that kinetic energy into the spring (which, after all, is designed for storing and re-translating kinetic energy) with ease.

I think the Brawn diffusers can be considered to be almost irrelevant to the situation.

The real question is – how can an object weighing almost 1kg have made its way off the mechanism of the car and out of the back into the path of a following car. Was the failure due to structural loading on a material with inherent flaws, or were the build standards not adhered to when putting this section of the car together for the race?


Yes you are quite right in some respects. The maths are interesting, the spring hitting the track at speed receives energy as an impact (force x time) into the spring, effectively partially compressing it, the spring’s own weight then becomes a factor as the heavier the spring the more energy will be imparted, but his will be cancelled out on the release because of the higher inertia of the spring.

The impact on the track is unlikely to have slowed the movement of the spring along the track by very much since the friction of such an impact would be applied for a fraction of a second. True it is not an aerodynamic shape and would be slowed by the air resistance, but this same factor would increase the influence of the updraught.

Whilst one cannot argue that there is a huge updraught behind the car, the double diffuser greatly increases the updraught in the centre immediately behind the engine/gearbox assy. The Rear wing creates a negative pressure behind the car which the flow from the rear diffuser fills, hopefully far enough behind the car not to affect the rear wing.

Having not been privy to the wind tunnel data I could of course be talking total bollocks.

“The real question is – how can an object weighing almost 1kg have made its way off the mechanism of the car and out of the back into the path of a following car.” Here the mass of the object is irrelevant, if it breaks, it either falls off or is retained by being secured at the other unbroken end. The spring end cones normally retain the spring by an interference fit when at rest. But under compression the spring tends to unwind and lessen it’s grip on the end cones,

In the brawn design if either crank pivot had broken this would have freed the spring at that end, the continuing movement of the crank still attached, would shake it violently until it fell off.

You can only test a crank pin’s breaking point by breaking it, ok you can xray and ultrasound it, but I doubt that is done to turned parts I would guess it is reserved for cast parts only.

BUT as I said in another thread you can’t FMEA the whole car to an infinite level; or you would end up with armour plated boxes with just the wheels sticking out, totally enclosed cockpits bulletproof runflat tyres and airbags, lots of airbags. On the slightest impapct the whole car turns into a bouncy castle.

It was a fluke, we must not act like a local council health and safety officer eager to prevent themselves being sued for all known hazards to anybody even though there is no risk record . Or we will end up not only with all our local fêtes and carnivals banned but with all motor racing banned as well in this our free country.



I agree with your comments. I didn’t mean to come across like a local council… perhaps a senate committe meeting? 😉

I think we are all agreed that racing under a litigious climate, such as is present in Italy would be unworkable. Hopefully the investigation into the accident will shore up the safety features to an even greater extent.

A reduction as much as humanly possible of these horrible events is all we are after.


I’m still reeling from the shock at what has happened to Felipe Massa. It was a terrible incident, and all our thoughts are with him and his family right now, and we wish him a speedy and full recovery.

It is very uncomfortable viewing, but I have yet to see a full and credible description of what happened during his horrible incident. The footage clearly shows the spring hit his helmet just as he returned his head to face forwards after looking in the right mirror. Judging from his quickly weakened grip on the steering wheel and the decelerating engine note, this rendered him almost instantly unconscious. I believe that relaxed legs in a Formula 1 cockpit would leave the feet resting quite firmly on the throttle and the brake pedals (though not 100%) and this seems to be what happened as the footage shows he was both braking (the front wheels were skidding, but not locked) and applying throttle (the engine revs reduce somewhat before impact due to braking, but remain high after impact).

His lack of consciousness at impact seems to have contributed to the reported basal skull fracture to happen (a very serious injury – poor Felipe was very, very lucky to escape this) as he would not have braced his neck muscles for impact. I’m not sure what part the HANS device played (it is designed to minimise this type of cranial-extensional injury) but surely the FIA will need to look again at the efficacy of this device in the inquiry.

Finally, the graphic image of the helmet shot above illustrates the sheer force of the spring which collapsed the helmet around Felipe’s left eye socket, and the massive force of impact of the 800g spring was able to fracture the fragile bones in this area.

I echo the sentiments of a previous poster who stated how much safer the sport is, and we all know that F1 will never be 100% safe, but let’s hope a solution to errant track debris can be found.

We all hope to see you racing again very soon, Felipe.

Best regards.


Does anyone else now agree that Raikkonen should have been black flagged for his loose exhaust at France last year?



Absolutely. Raikkonen should have been black flagged. I watched that race with disbelief.

The Stewards normally do an absolutely fantastic job on race weekends, but in this case, their decision to leave the exhaust flapping around, waiting to come off and cause serious damage or injury, was a dangerous joke.

It needn’t have hit another driver physically – running over it would have likely caused damage and possibly a crash.


I’m as shocked as everybody else at this accident and my best wishes go out to Felipe Massa and his family.

However this incident and the image in this blog only reinforce my opinion that the media should not have access to cockpit images.

Had these visual feeds been available fifteen years ago then doubtless there would have been pictures available of Ayrton Senna at the moment of his death.


Its hard to say someone is ‘lucky’ when you see the injuries to Felipe Massa’s head, but he is very lucky to be alive.

I would be very surprised if Ferrari run him in a race this season, but they did just that ten years ago with Michael Schumacher so anything is possible.

Such a bizarre incident, coming so close to Henry Surtees being killed in simular circumstances. Poor old Rubens Barrichello must be feeling it, even though it was not his fault, for it to be someone he knows as well as Massa it must be tough.

Take 2009 off Felipe and get better, we’ll ride with you in 2010 and see you win the title.


I heard and based on what i’ve seen during qualifying James that the track is very bouncy because of the kerbs, could this be the reason why that part in ruben’s car fell off.


This is very serious, I trust he will be OK but he’s not out of the woods yet. I believe he maybe out (racing)for an extended period of time.

Good Luck Felipe……….We’re all thinking about you…..


Hope and prey Felipe makes a full and speady recovery from what can only be described as a freak accident. I was travelling at 40 mph behind a tipper when a stone fell from the back of it and it shattered the windscreen, God only knows what the poor guy thought when he saw that thing hurtling towards him at a horrendous pace. Brave is not too much of a word. Good luck for now and your future. Barry Butters, North Wales.


It is worth looking back at the course of Richard Hammond’s injuries and treatment for a well-documented example of the path back from a major bang to the head, even without surgical intervention.


Everything crossed that FM comes out of this OK, as others have said he won a lot of respect last year with the way he dealt with the having the WDC taken out of his hands.

Can anybody tell me who the Ferrari spare driver is? And will he be racing tomorrow?


Looking at the replay it appears that he turned his head to look in his right hand mirror and was busy turning it back when the spring hit him.

A very lucky man, get well soon Felipe.

Will Ferrari have two cars in the race?



In light of how serious the accident is I find that image objectionable and I would like to ask you if you could remove it…

This last week has been awful and today I had the same horrible emotions as May 1st, 1994. We can call both accidents ‘freaks’ but the fact is there is a serious weak point in driver safety by having the head exposed and something needs to be done about it…


Prayer has never been scientifically proven to help in any medical situation. I hope he will be fine, hope is all we have. Where was God when Surtees Jr was tragically killed? Why look to the heavens when we need to look at the reality around us.


Pray…everyone…he is not out of this yet..


I find Ferrari press release very conflicting, they only said the surgery was “positive”, what does that mean?. The doctor said he was in serious but stable condition and is in induced coma, could someone tell us what is realy happening?.

JA please don’t stop twitting updates.

Hope God is with him and he makes a full recovery, specially for his wife and baby which is coming in november.


I hope Massa is back on the grid before the end of the season, he won a lot of fans in England last year and that’s hard to do when we’re all cheering on Hamilton. A genuine guy who deserves another shot at the title.

I agree with other comments that the photo on the homepage should not be there, especially when we do not know for sure Massa’s condition. The closeness of the cut to his eye is terrifying.

To Yasser Almansour, I don’t think we should thank God before the paramedics, shouldn’t he have been on hand to stop the debris flying into Massa’s path in the first place?

I hope Massa gets to watch the grand prix from his hospital bed and watch an entertaining grand prix, something the hungaroring rarely provides… but judging by qualifying, tomorrow should be different!


So much for Eddie Jordan’s invisible source!

(a bang on the chin but he’s ok) Not to be trusted in future.

BTW Where is Ant Dave today? We had (a very welcome) Johnny Herbert instead on the 5live commentary.


He’s racing in the Spa 24 hrs


Thanks James

Good luck to him then, he deserves some success.


I hope that Massa is ok. It makes you realise how vulnerable the drivers are inside the cockpit!

I wish him a speedy recovery


Motor racing will always be dangerous, that’s why some of the drivers do it, if there were no danger, they would just push and push until it became dangerous again.

Massa may well be prevented from taking part the rest of this season, he may even retire if it affects him badly mentally, it was one of those unforeseeable accidents, lets hope he recovers quickly.

From an engineering point of view, it is almost impossible to FMEA (Failure Mode Effect Analyse) the whole car, however it should be possible to look at all suspension, drivetrain, and aero components to see if there is any way of preventing escape from the vehicle in the event of the various failure modes; However I think it will be almost impossible to retain all broken parts without very radical, expensive and unacceptable, changes to the formula. For instance take the wheel tethers, while a good idea, they often fail, as they did today on Massa’s car; simply because the strain they are subject to exceeds the spec of the tethers. With new materials banned they cannot be made safer. Maybe the exotic materials ban should not apply to safety components.

With a coil spring you can stick a tether down the centre of it in a loop back to the tub/engine/chassis, but nothing will prevent the broken half of a spring unwinding itself off of the tether, possibly at great speed.

Remember the days of exploding gearboxes leaving a trail of oil cogs, selector forks and shafts on the track, that never happens now. We often get bits of front wing assy on the track though, it could just as easily have been one of those that Massa ran over and got flicked up into his head area.

Huge progress has been made in making the cars immensely strong, able to withstand high impact forces and containing the fuel during a crash. (Problem next year) 20 years ago Massa would have been killed no question. But however strong you make the cars, there will always arise an unpredictable string of circumstances that will defeat even the most stringent and comprehensive safety system.

Yasser Almansour

I was letirally shaking when I first saw his head not moving at all
it’s weird how your priorities can easily change within second,from wanting a good position for your team driver in the beginning of the race to just hoping he can walk up again.
After thanking god,we shouldn’t forget the amazing job done by the ppl that made those helmets andcars to ensure the drivers safety
hope he gets up soon
imagine how hard it was for his brother


I hope Felipe is okay, that was a pretty nasty accident and another example of how freak accidents can occur at any time in motorsports. I felt dreadful seeing it happen as it brought back horrible memories from last weekend 🙁

Here’s to hoping that Felipe makes a good recovery quite quickly.


Dear James,

To continue from the post above, I am very concerned about Felipe’s condition being an ardent fan of his. I also hear rumors that he is likely to sit out the rest of the season because of the seriousness of the injury. I hope he gets well soon and any more information about his condition will be greatly appreciated.

PS: This might sound like an awkward time to mention this, but your post race interviews are tops! Keep it up! Miss your voice on TV!


Our Best wishes go out to Felipe and all of his family.

May he return even stronger and in a championship winning car.


Scary, scary, scary. I hope he recovers well, and this doesn’t end a blossoming career. He really has emerged as the leader of the Ferrari team.

Just don’t try to rush back FM; getting well is the most important thing. We’re all pulling for you.

Top Tags