x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Brundle backs Massa to emulate Hakkinen

Martin Brundle is convinced the Ferrari driver has the mental strength to bounce back from his horrific crash and win a world title.

Ferrari driver Felipe Massa drives the F2007 car during a test at the team's Fiorano track on Monday.
Ferrari driver Felipe Massa drives the F2007 car during a test at the team's Fiorano track on Monday.

Felipe Massa's scarred forehead bears a constant reminder of the horrific crash he suffered in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix in July, but his state of mind is likely to be less ravaged by the experience. That is the assessment of Martin Brundle, the former McLaren driver turned Formula One commentator, who believes Massa can emulate the likes of double world champion Mika Hakkinen and recover from serious injury to one day carry off the drivers' championship.

Massa suffered a fractured skull as he was knocked unconscious by a loose car part from Rubens Barrichello's Brawn GP car during qualifying at the Hungaroring, prompting fears at the time that he could have suffered the loss of his sight and would never be able to race again. Even though the Brazilian driver, who has 11 race victories and has taken 15 pole positions, expressed impatience over getting back on the grid - he was even back testing a 2007 Ferrari car on Monday - he has been ruled out for the remainder of the 2009 campaign by his Ferrari team.

When Massa does eventually take to the track competitively again next year, Brundle suggests that any mental demons will have long since disappeared. "I don't think it will impact [on Massa] in the slightest," said Brundle, who retired in 1996 following a career spanning 165 Grands Prix that saw him also race for Benetton, Ligier and Jordan. "I don't think you are mentally scarred in terms of actually functioning. Mika Hakkinen's shunt in Adelaide [in 1995] was worse than that, and he came back and won two world championships."

Hakkinen suffered injuries after crashing heavily into the barriers and needed a emergency tracheotomy at the trackside to be kept alive after his heart stopped twice. Yet the Finn recovered in time to be fit for the following season and would go on to be champion in 1998 and 1999. Despite his accident, and the fact he and his wife are expecting a baby next month, Massa has not considered walking away from the sport.

He quickly expressed his intention to return to the wheel for the climax to the season, at the Yas Marina circuit in the capital on November 1. However, Ferrari have now dismissed that prospect. "There will be plenty of time for that in 2010, when, alongside Fernando Alonso, he will begin development work of the new single-seater," a Ferrari statement said of his potential imminent return. Brundle is not surprised by Massa's eagerness to return. The Englishman suffered two major crashes during his racing career, and said drivers are, by nature, sanguine about the dangers posed by their job.

He was struck on the helmet by Jos Verstappen's Benetton in the 1994 Brazilian Grand Prix, and two years later his Jordan somersaulted off the track and broke apart after he had crashed into David Coulthard's McLaren. Remarkably with the latter incident, Brundle was back in a car 15 minutes later for the race restart. "What happened to him was so strange that you think, 'What are the chances of that happening to me again? Well, zero, so let's ignore that one'," said Brundle.

"If you have made a mistake, you can rationalise that in your head, and say, 'Right, I won't make that mistake again'. "But if the car just plain fails on you - the brakes fail or the throttle stick is wide open - they are the ones that really scare you." Brundle, who will host the Abu Dhabi Chequered Flag Ball at the Intercontinental on October 29, added: "The only guys who ever went into a race apparently with no fear died.

"Every time you step over the side of a Formula One car you know there is a chance you will be injured, paralysed or killed - on a reduced basis now. "If you are going to go 200mph feet first everywhere, at some point in time you will have an accident. It is not a question of 'might'. "There is no shock involved. You know you'll have an accident because you or someone else will make a mistake. "If someone has a 50kmph shunt on the road, sometimes they need a month off for shock. There is no shock when you have a big Formula One shunt because you know it can happen."

pradley@thenational.ae