Felipe Massa’s horrific crash caused a substantial delay to qualifying at the Hungaroring – after which Fernando Alonso claimed his first pole position in almost two years.
The result was even more of a surprise as the final moments of qualifying were disrupted by a total failure of the timing systems, meaning even the drivers themsevles were unaware who had qualified where.
After a fairly cool final practice session the temperature rose ahead of qualifying, making the track more Brawn-friendly with every extra degree. As the first cars rolled onto the circuit the surface temperate had reached 41C.
The Toro Rossos were among the first cars out including rookie Jaime Alguersuari in his first F1 appearance. His team mate Sebastien Buemi’s early effort of 1’21.813 provided the first mark to beat, the STR4s benefiting from the revised front wing and diffuser first used by the Red Bulls at Silverstone.
The field had been exceptionally closely-bunched in practice – just over a second covering 19 cars on Friday afternoon – a pattern which continued in qualifying. That meant no driver could afford to stay in the pits after their final run. All 20 cars piled onto the circuit at the end.
Disappointingly, newcomer Alguersuari ground to a halt towards the end of the session, consigning him to a starting from the back of the grid. That briefly brought out the yellow flags which gave several drivers a scare as it briefly meant they couldn’t post improved times.
They included Timo Glock, who was 18th before his final run, which pulled him up to eighth. Team mate Jarno Trulli and the Renaults also escaped the drop zone in the dying stages.
Both BMWs were eliminated – Nick Heidfeld’s second in final practice proving a false dawn. So were both Force Indias, Adrian Sutil only making it onto the trck briefly after his crash in practice.
Drivers eliminated in Q1
16. Nick Heidfeld, BMW – 1’21.738
17. Giancarlo Fisichella, Force India-Mercedes – 1’21.807
18. Adrian Sutil, Force India-Mercedes – 1’21.868
19. Robert Kubica, BMW – 1’21.901
20. Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1’22.369
The Red Bull duo made the early running in Q2, but Nico Rosberg pegged them back with a 1’20.895. But Fernando Alonso sprang a surprise by edging Rosberg by a hundredth of a second, then eking out another 0.05s on his second effort.
With five minutes remaining Alonso’s team mate Nelson Piquet Jnr – who did not have the latest specification front wing as Alonso did – found himself in the bottom five along with the Toyotas, Buemi and Kimi Raikkonen.
Alonso was the only driver who chose not to do a final extra run – everyone else took to the track. Rubens Barrichello, striving to make the cut in his Brawn, was left unable to progress to Q3 after part of his suspension broke.
That failure had terrible implications for his countryman Felipe Massa. As the Ferrari driver arrived on the scene part of Barrichello’s suspension struck his crash helmet, and and Massa crashed hard into the barriers at turn four.
Massa’s injury was gory, but could have been horrific. The spring tore a gash in the side of his crash helmet, pulling the visor off the left side, leaving him with a bloodied face.
The session was delayed for 20 minutes while the Ferrari driver was taken to the circuit’s medical centre before being transferred to hospital via helicopter.
Drivers eliminated in Q2
11. Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1′21.002
12. Jarno Trulli, Toyota – 1′21.082
13. Rubens Barrichello, Brawn-Mercedes – 1′21.222
14. Timo Glock, Toyota – 1′21.242
15. Nelson Piquet Jnr, Renault – 1′21.389
After a lengthy delay the session got going once again, albeit without Massa and, to begin with, Button’s Brawn. The team inspected his rear suspension to guard against a repeat.
Events took another bizarre turn as the session reached its climax – suddenly all the timing screens went blank, leaving everyone unclear which driver had set the quickest time.
Mark Webber had been fastest before the clocks vanished – and as the drivers arrived in parc ferme they wore quizzical expressions and asked each other what times they had done to try to work out who was on pole position.
Eventually it was announced that Fernando Alonso had done the best time, narrowly beating Sebastian Vettel. It seemed oddly appropriate that an session which had all the joy sucked out of it by Massa’s fearful crash should end in such an anticlimactic fashion.
There are as yet no doubts being raised about the accuracy of the times, so it looks as though, unlike two years ago, Alonso will keep his pole position.
Webber took third ahead of Hamilton, with Button languishing in eighth, setting up an intriguing race tomorrow. We’ll get a clearer picture of who is genuinely competitive once the fuel weights are published later this afternoon.
Top ten drivers in Q3
1. Fernando Alonso, Renault – 1′21.569
2. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull-Renault – 1′21.607
3. Mark Webber, Red Bull-Renault – 1′21.741
4. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes – 1′21.839
5. Nico Rosberg, Williams-Toyota – 1′21.890
6. Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren-Mercedes – 1′22.095
7. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari – 1′22.468
8. Jenson Button, Brawn-Mercedes – 1′22.511
9. Kazuki Nakajima, Williams-Toyota – 1′22.835
10. Felipe Massa, Ferrari – no time