Forza Felipe

I will review the Hungarian Grand Prix soon, but I have a couple of other articles I need to get out of the way first. I didn’t want to do any of that before mentioning Felipe Massa.

It goes without saying that I deeply hope that Felipe Massa makes a full recovery, and that it won’t be too long before he is racing again.

I was shaking during qualifying as news of what had happened to Massa had emerged. I don’t think I have ever felt that bad in all the time I have been watching Formula 1 since 1995, although Robert Kubica’s accident at Montreal in 2007 came close to that feeling.

I said last week following the death of Henry Surtees that the greatest risk that faces racing drivers is not having a heavy impact with a wall, but being hit by a wheel. This week we must extend that to debris in general. The spring that fell off Rubens Barrichello’s car is said to have weighed around a kilogram, not the sort of thing you want to be approaching at upwards of 160mph. Meanwhile, his car’s heavy impact with the tyre barrier does not appear to have caused or exacerbated any serious injury.

Martin Brundle has rightly pointed out that the term “freak accident” is inappropriate in motorsport. When you are travelling at speeds regularly approaching 200mph, there is only so much you can ever do to make it safe.

But there is no doubting that Felipe Massa was extraordinarily unlucky. The part that failed on the Brawn had never failed before. The spring then bounced around for four seconds, before just happening to be in exactly the right position to hit Massa’s helmet. You couldn’t aim it like that if you tried. Had Massa arrived a second earlier or later, or been a few inches further to the right, we probably would never have known about the spring flying around on the track.

That this should have happened just six days after the death of Henry Surtees adds further to the sense of tragedy. When you have one tragic accident it might be easy to dismiss it as a freak one-off, but to have two similar incidents in close succession rings alarm bells. Rubens Barrichello has compared this week to Imola 1994.

There will be a renewed look at safety, which I sense has taken a back seat since cost cutting became the more fashionable cause. Many are asking, is it time for Formula 1 to consider closed cockpits? The debate has been started by Ross Brawn, F1 Fanatic and Checkpoint 10. But there are no easy answers. This weekend during an IndyCar race we saw a perfect demonstration of the extra dangers that a closed cockpit may create, when Tony Kanaan’s car caught fire following a refuelling problem.

Going back to Felipe Massa, ever since the second he hit the tyre barrier the reports that have come out have been conflicting and confusing. Thankfully, the latest news appears to be positive. Let us hope that Massa will make a full and speedy recovery.

Forza Felipe.


  1. Everyone is correct. There are no easy answers, but is it a problem and if it is, is it a problem which really needs solving?

    Although we have had two similar events in a short space of time, we could race for another 20 years and not anything like it again.

    Personally, i don’t like the idea of closed cockpits. I think the time and money could be better spent, researching and developing better safety helmets, which can withstand higher impacts. As we know, a lot of the safety feature in F1 cars, filter down the chain to other grades of motor sport, so from that point of view, developing stronger safety helmets in F1, might save lives further down the chain, where as closed cockpits might leave other motor sports vulnerable.

    As you highlighted in your post, motor sport is a dangerous sport and there is only so much you can do in terms of safety. Unfortunately accidents will happen and people will get hurt. Putting too many safety feature in to the cars to stop accident, which only happen once in a blue moon, would change F1 as a sceptical.

    Apparently, on average there are 4.5 professional footballers die while playing football or in training each year in Europe. That doesn’t mean the goal posts should be built out of rubber, or that all players should wear head guards.

  2. One could argue that the kind of accidents Surtees and Massa suffered are of rare occurence but if something can be improved you don’t have to wait ’til a driver dies. The last F1 big step on safety required two deaths and a huge shunt by Barrichello 15 yr. ago. Helmets are highly safe now; in fact helmet+HANS saved Massa’s life. But even a stronger helmet won’t improve safety since in the end the neck is the one being loaded and there’s still a chance of skull base fracture/fissure which is life-threatening injury (I read somewhere that Massa has a skull-base injury too).
    Open-cockpit is one of the basics of F1 racing and it is hard to imagine a canopy protecting the driver but let’s face it, the amount of driver’s exposure since the fifties has brougt the driver more horizontal and barely above the tub’s top(to improve aero and safety). I think that a protecting windshield would be a good solution to improve safety and still have an open cockpit. That way driver can avoid head-on collisions with debris.
    Finally, I haven’t seen an IRL car with a close cockpit; the problems Kanaan had were related to the seat belts, a winshield shouldnt be more problematic to remove than the high lateral cockpit protection “walls” already in use…. get well Felipe!

  3. Thanks for the comment Benalf.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that IndyCars have closed cockpits, but that the burns may have been worse if Tony Kanaan was prevented from getting out more quickly.

  4. I hope everyone’s read this brilliant (if deeply speculative) piece.

    Massa is an easy man to like, and as sad as this week is (and no matter how much racing we see from him in the future) it’s great to know his new baby will have this father to admire.