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Hakkinen hurt in Adelaide

MCLAREN driver Mika Hakkinen is in the hospital in Adelaide, Australia, following a severe accident during qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix last Friday.

The 27-year-old Finn appears to have suffered a punctured tire in the high-speed Brewery Bend. The car arrived in the corner sideways in fifth gear.

As the car spun, it hit the kerbing backwards and was launched into the air. It then hit the ground just before hitting the wall. As a result, little of the speed was wiped off. The 120mph impact was side-on - with the left front fractionally hitting first. There was virtually no deflection of energy, the car stopping where it hit the wall at a point where there was only one layer of tires protecting the wall.

In such an accident a driver's head and neck is very exposed, because while the body - strapped tightly in the car - stops moving, the head does not stop. In such circumstances neck, chest and head injuries are likely because of the wrenching effect of the impact. Recent crash-testing conducted for the FIA Advisory Expert Group shows that lateral G-forces on the driver's head in such accidents can peak at 150G, which is much more than the human body can tolerate without injury.

Hakkinen was immediately unconscious although he had not hit his head on the wall or the cockpit surround. If he had done so the Finn would almost certainly be dead. The medical crews were very quick and a tracheotomy was being performed - to clear his air passage - as the medical car, carrying F1 doctor Professor Sid Watkins, arrived at the scene. Mika was taken out of the car, and was worked on beside the car for 15 minutes before being put into an ambulance and driven the few hundred yards from Brewery Bend to the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

It took several hours before any official medical bulletin was released and there were all manner of rumors in the paddock. The official statement, however, was a lot more hopeful than expected. It said that Hakkinen had suffered "a head injury" and was under "sedation and ventilation" in the hospital's Intensive Care Unit. It was also announced that x-rays revealed "no evidence of other serious injuries".

Hakkinen suffered no leg injuries despite the fact that the rear arm of the lower left front wishbone had been punched through the chassis in the impact and had passed beneath Mika's knees.

It later emerged that Mika had suffered a fracture around the base of his skull and some internal bleeding as a result of this. Medical reports during the weekend, however, gave cause for optimism. Doctors were initially worried that Hakkinen's brain might swell inside the skull and cause brain hemorrhaging. This is what killed American F1 racer Mark Donohue two days after he crashed in Austria in August 1975. In fact, this was not a problem, and in the course of Saturday Hakkinen regained consciousness. He was reported to be talking and moving his limbs on command.

The long-term effects of the skull fracture will not be known for some weeks. Hakkinen was still in the Intensive Care Unit on Sunday night, but was expected to be moved to a normal room on Monday, although he will remain in the hospital for some time yet.

The effects of the accident are less clear than the cause of the crash. A few hours after the accident McLaren team boss Ron Dennis revealed that: "Having studied the data and inspected the car, there is absolutely no doubt that the left-hand rear tire suffered a rapid deflation as the result of a cut tire, which was almost certainly caused by Mika running over some track debris."

Goodyear admitted that the left rear tire had a four inch long puncture which had caused the deflation, and agreed that a piece of debris was the likely cause, because there were similar - but less disastrous - punctures for Pedro Lamy and Johnny Herbert in the same period leading up to Hakkinen's crash.

The accident is a terrible setback for McLaren which is about to embark on its winter testing program, with Hakkinen expected to have been the leading tester. David Coulthard will join the team shortly but he cannot test for another fortnight which means that Jan Magnussen will have to do most of the work, although Alain Prost may also be drafted in.

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