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David Coulthard column

David Couthard
By David Coulthard
BBC Sport at the Hungaroring

Qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix was the strangest session that I can ever remember seeing in Formula 1.

Ferrari's Felipe Massa before his crash in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix
Massa ploughed head on into a tyre wall at around 125mph

Felipe Massa's crash in the second period was a very stark reminder that this is a dangerous sport, just as it says on the ticket.

It was shocking to see the 2008 championship runner-up plough his Ferrari into the tyre wall and then not to initially know what the outcome of his accident was.

All we could see was Massa slumped in the car, which is never a good sign. It took quite some time for the information to reach us in the paddock that he was OK.

Television replays showed that he had been struck on the left-hand side of his helmet by a piece of flying debris.

It looks to me that he was momentarily knocked out because he drifted to the inside of the track, which is not at all a natural racing line, and the point at which he starts to brake is at the top of the corner rather than later.

Luckily, the car did its bit and the tyre wall did its bit but coming just six days after the death of Henry Surtees, son of 1964 world champion John Surtees, who suffered a head injury during a Formula Two race at Brand's Hatch.

The official timing screens going down was a fairly embarrassing moment for F1

David Coulthard

After Surtees's tragic death, the vulnerability of the open cockpit has been in the back of all the drivers' minds.

That is the essence of single-seater racing but it also reminds us of the risk the drivers face.

The strange qualifying session was compounded by the fact that in the closing minutes all the official timing screens went down.

The end result was that nobody knew who was on pole and the top 10 drivers got out of their cars and were swapping times to work out who had actually set the hot lap.

Each driver knows their own times because the cars have their own telemetry which follows them around the track.

In the old days, teams used to time the other cars as well as their own but the electronic timing system made that redundant.

I think it was a fairly embarrassing moment for F1. The organisers didn't have a Plan B so there was no way to communicate the result to the drivers, the teams and fans watching around the world.

In the end, F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone had to come into parc ferme to try and sort it out.

Full credit to my colleague Eddie Jordan, who said on air before qualifying that Fernando Alonso had told him he would take pole.

Regardless of the fact that Alonso is light on fuel, the team have made progress - we saw at the German Grand Prix that Renault had the fastest lap of the race.

Mark Webber and Red Bull are closing the gap on Brawn
Webber and Red Bull are closing the gap on Brawn in both championships

I spoke to Alonso afterwards and he said the car just kept getting better and better. It looks like they've struck a sweet spot with performance and have taken a bit step forward as they usually do in the second half of the season.

What does all this mean for the race?

Well, Sebastian Vettel lines up on the front row just ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber.

Red Bull will want to take points out of Brawn's championship leader Jenson Button and, of course, they want to win the race.

As long as they continue to out-score the Brawns slowly but surely they are eating into Button's 21-point lead.

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Red Bull will accept that they are likely to get passed by a McLaren or Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari, who have the benefit of the kinetic energy recovery system (Kers) power boost on the run down to the first corner.

Team boss Christian Horner will have to decide whether to have enough fuel on board to re-take a Kers or make a tactical decision for later in the race.

As for Button, he is back in eighth on the grid with team-mate Rubens Barrichello in 13th.

Unless there is a wet race in Hungary, I don't see how Brawn can fight back from there.


David Coulthard won 13 Grands Prix in a 15-year F1 career. He is a BBC Sport pundit and a consultant for Red Bull. He was talking to BBC Sport's Sarah Holt.



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see also
Highlights - Alonso claims Hungary pole
25 Jul 09 |  Formula 1
Massa set to fly home to Brazil
31 Jul 09 |  Formula 1
Massa crashes in Hungary qualifying
25 Jul 09 |  Formula 1
Hungarian GP qualifying photos
25 Jul 09 |  Formula 1
Hungary GP qualifying as it happened
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David Coulthard column
23 May 09 |  Formula 1
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04 Apr 09 |  Formula 1
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