Wacky races: the verdict on Hungary GP Qualifying

The qualifying session for the Hungarian Grand Prix finished this afternoon leaving millions of fans around the world emotionally exhausted and bemused as to the final result.

In one of the most dramatic Saturday exhibitions ever seen, Fernando Alonso eventually was pronounced pole-sitter, but only after the official timing system catastrophically collapsed with 30 seconds or so to go of the final Q3 session. In the other big news of the day, Felipe Massa suffered a terrible accident which had awful echoes of Henry Surtees’ fatal incident last weekend. Thankfully, initial reports suggested the Brazilian was ok.

Qualifying 1 had its fair share of entertainment – a number of cars slithering and sliding on the green track that thanks to morning rain had little or no grip. Debutant Jaime Alguersuari acquitted himself reasonably before retiring with a minute to go with what looked like a mechanical failure. His retirement brought out the yellow flags, putting a number of drivers under real pressure to perform. Nelson Piquet Jr and Fernando Alonso responded well, jumping themselves out of the drop zone with good individual efforts. The two BMW Saubers could not go any quicker, and neither could the two Force Indias.

In the second part, it began to become clear that the Red Bulls had the upper hand over their Brawn rivals in the great strategic battle of the weekend. Barrichello suffered a mechanical problem and went out at the end, as did Buemi, Trulli, Glock and Piquet. Sebastian Buemi did spectacularly well to qualify 11th, an effort that reminds observers of his talent just as Alguersuari takes the limelight away from the young Swiss. Piquet might have done better with (now exactly) the same car as Alonso who managed to put it on pole.

Barrichello’s mechanical issue had dreadful consequences, however. As he was rounding turn three, a piece of metal flew off the Brawn car and bounced down the track. The next man along was Felipe Massa, and in a horrible coincidence the metal part bounced up and hit the Ferrari driver in the face. The possibility of such an incident remains one of the most dangerous aspects of open-cockpit motor racing, and for some minutes it looked as though Massa might have suffered a serious injury, as he failed to negotiate the next corner and ploughed into the tyre wall instead. Mercifully, reports soon emerged that Massa – although stunned by the impact of the part and the ensuing crash – was stable, and only being taken to hospital as a precaution.

The delayed final ten minutes was nail-biting stuff. It appeared that any one of the two Red Bulls, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button or Fernandon Alonso could take pole, and everyone was eagerly awaiting the last lap battle. In a bizarre anti-climax, the timing system then went down, leaving commentators, teams and fans alike bewildered and lost as to which of the drivers was fastest. When the drivers climbed out of the cars, none of them knew who was where. Eventually it filtered through that Fernando Alonso had grabbed the pole – that he had been fastest when the system went down and so therefore he kept the honour. Knowing Formula One, though, don’t be surprised if there’s a change of position overnight.

Credit must go to Alonso for making the most of an improved, albeit probably light, Renault R29. The Red Bulls will not be disappointed to be second and third and must be fancying their race chances. A fourth-placed Lewis Hamilton will be eyeing the front at the start and with his KERS advantage he could be in contention – the two directly in front of him, Vettel and Alonso, are not known for their great starts.

Everybody connected with the sport must be hoping that Felipe Massa will race tomorrow – but in the event that he is declared unfit, tester Marc Gene will step into the breach.