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JULY 25, 2009

The latest on Massa

There seems to be some questions about the condition of Felipe Massa this evening. The Brazilian suffered a fracture to his skull in qualifying in Budapest and was flown by helicopter to hospital, where he had surgery. In F1 circles it was felt that Massa had had a very lucky escape but that his injuries were not serious. Both Ferrari and the FIA were saying the same things but the medical director of the hospital Peter Bazso said in a news conference that Massa's condition was "life-threatening but stable."

All serious head injuries can be considered life-threatening, particularly given the fact that bruising of the brain can cause dangerous pressures. However techniques to manage brain swelling have developed considerably. Understanding the extent of the problem is very important as the risk of death increases dramatically if no action is taken within four hours of the injury occurring. Reducing the pressure inside the skull is done with drugs and by placing the patient on a respirator and artificially hyperventilating him. This reduces the carbon dioxide content in the blood and as a result the brain vessels naturally reduce in size. In extreme cases the swelling can be relieved with an operation.

In Formula 1 there have been several drivers who have suffered such injuries, notably Martin Donnelly and Karl Wendlinger in the modern era. Back in the 1970s American Mark Donohue crashed heavily following a tyre failure in the morning warm-up before the Austrian Grand Prix. It initially seemed that he was only lightly injured, but he died three days later as a result of brain swelling. Technology has moved on considerably in the interim and in F1 circles there is hope that the reports of Massa's condition have been exaggerated somewhat. The F1 doctors seemed to be none too worried about the situation, with Massa reported to have a small cut on his forehead, a skull lesion and concussion.

Rubens Barrichello visited Felipe in the circuit medical centre and said that "he was conscious, he was moving and he was very agitated with the fact that he had a cut on his head. With that, they sedated him for him to calm down, and then they moved him to hospital."