> The Ferrari Family : Forza Felipe!

The Ferrari Family : Forza Felipe!

Posted on Monday, July 27, 2009 | No Comments




"For us, the first priority is to find out Felipe's recovery progress and situation," Di Montezemolo said. "Felipe is a very important member of the Ferrari family not just the Ferrari team. First priority now is to find out the situation with Felipe and then we will see and we will think, without pressure. Only at that moment will we make a decision and if we have to take a decision we will make a good decision."

Michael Schumacher always described Ferrari not as a team, but as a close knit extended family. One that shared in anguish, heartache, joy, good times and bad times right throughout the factory. From the cleaning lady, to the guy who drives the car and the President of Ferrari himself – this was a team as close knit as any, if Schumacher were to be believed.

This weekend, the outside world, glimpsed briefly at just how close that family is – in the most unfortunate of circumstances. During qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, towards the end of Q2, Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn F1 car unexpectedly suffered rear suspension failure. Debris fell from the car – including a damper spring. Four seconds behind the white and luminous yellow Brawn car, Felipe Massa’s Ferrari followed into turn four at 150mph. In a one in a million occurrence, the spring bounced along the track and just at that moment, was at the right height to hit the left hand side of Felipe’s helmet.

The Ferrari missing the turn in point, heading straight across the grass, the cars brakes applied, but not enough to stop the car from ploughing into the tyre barrier ahead. The cameras showing Massa sat stationary in the car as it was buried deep into the tyres. The BBC seemingly reluctant to show what was happening next – the next shot they actually shown was the medical car arriving on the scene, followed by two ambulances shortly afterwards. The pit lane camera’s firmly fixed on Massa’s engineer Rob Smedley as he pressed away at the radio button on the pit wall hoping for any sign of response from his driver to indicate either what had happened or what the extent of the injuries were.

We’d later learn that Felipe had indeed been struck on the head by the spring and had skull damage and brain concussion, along with a cut across his left eye. Pictures on various websites show the damage to the very latest Schubert carbon fibre helmet Massa was wearing. His right eye wide open showing the state of shock and dismay at the lack of comprehension at what had just happened. Photos of the car afterwards showed minimal damage – the crash structures and tub holding together perfectly – exactly as anticipated by the years of development the FIA and the sport had put into making such things as safe as possible.

Felipe was immediately taken to the medical centre, before being taken in the medical helicopter – the driver attempting to wave at the crowds from the stretcher - directly to hospital: his condition described as “Stable, yet life threatening”. He would later be visited by Ferrari Principal Stefano Domenicali who is reported to have stayed with his drive for most of Saturday evening, and returned early Sunday morning with other members of the Ferrari team. Fellow Brazilian and former Ferrari driver, Rubens Barrichello also visited, as did F1 Commercial Rights holder Bernie Ecclestone.

Sunday, prior to the start of the race Rob Smedley lead Felipe’s pit crew in a combined effort to rally together and send a best wishes to their driver and show just how much the Ferrari family were thinking of him and how much they wanted him back and on the grid for the race. Due the extent of the injuries that of course was just not possible. CT Scans would be the order of the day after a successful surgery to correct the skull fractures and ease the concussion on the brain. The scans confirmed that no brain damage had been caused and all the signs are good – however Felipe would remain under close observation and under heavy sedation.

Today – Monday – Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo is expect to make the trip to Budapest to visit his driver, just like he did when Michael Schumacher broke his leg following car failure during the British Grand Prix in 1999. Again, further reinforcing the “family” ties within the Ferrari team. It’s reported today that Massa has responded well to treatment and is now waking more and more, hands and feet have started to move again and is answering questions. Doctors aren’t yet satisfied of a complete recovery yet, saying instead that more time is needed before the “all clear” is given, however all of the signs so far towards recovery have been above expectation.

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Over fifteen years ago, on the 1st May 1994 – possibly the greatest F1 driver who ever lived – Ayrton Senna – was killed driving his Williams F1 at Imola, Italy. Whilst the ultimate cause of his death have never been fully determined, one of the main conspiracies is that Senna was unofficially wearing a light weight helmet, in order to gain an advantage over his rivals – it is theorised that a small piece of debris hit Senna in the head, piercing the helmet easily and causing a blackout, resulting in the great three times world championship winning Brazilian to fail to apply the brake and hit the wall hard.

The day before fellow Austrian driver Roland Ratzenburger had died during a qualifying accident. The death of one of the sports greatest just a day later shook the world of motorsport; forcing the FIA to introduce a raft of safety precautions to the design of the cars, the tracks and the medical practices and procedures in place around the world.

Since that time, there has never been another death in Formula One, the safety record has been maintained and the cars, tracks, and dedication to safety by the teams, the drivers and the FIA have been paramount. Drivers have had serious accidents and escaped dramatic looking shunts and crashes – allowing them to walk away relatively unharmed and allowing them to get back into a race car days or even hours later.

No one wants a driver to be injured and this recent freak accident involving Felipe Massa is a reminder to all involved that there is still a lot more yet to be done before the sport can be 100% safe. While the chances of the accident being repeated is almost a million to one, some of the sports most experienced engineers – including Ross Brawn – have already spoke about the possibilities of drivers being encased in the cars either with cages, windscreens or capsules. But as Ross points out, these solutions cannot be rushed and the issues of how to get to the drivers in the event of an accident and how they are extracted from an enclosed capsule need to be carefully thought out.

I’m confident that with all of the engineering talent and with a continued emphasis on safety, they will work out a viable solution to protecting the drivers further and prevent further freak accidents from injuring drivers in such a way as those suffered by Felipe Massa.

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In the meantime, I’m sure that the thoughts of all motor racing enthusiasts throughout the world – those within the Ferrari “Family” and those outside of that close knit family team - are hoping for a completely recovery for Ferrari’s Brazilian driver.

Forza Felipe!

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