MADRID, Spain — McLaren’s pursuit of F1 leader Ferrari is suddenly not just about matching the Italian team in the technology department. A violent crash at the Spanish Grand Prix has created an emotional hurdle, too.
Kimi Raikkonen led Ferrari to its third straight win at Barcelona and moved the Italian team into the lead in the drivers and constructors standings. Raikkonen has 29 points. McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton has 20 points after finishing third.
Felipe Massa, Raikkonen’s Ferrari teammate who was coming off a victory at Bahrain, was second 3.228 seconds behind.
Hamilton’s showing after two poor races would normally be cause for celebration at McLaren, but was muted by teammate Heikki Kovalainen undergoing head scans at a hospital after his car screamed into a tire wall at about 80 mph.
The 26-year-old Finn was knocked unconscious and has no recollection of the accident. He escaped with scrapes and a minor concussion and is already looking to return to the driver’s seat for the Turkish GP on May 11.
“My focus is on getting better as soon as possible so I can pass the FIA medical inspection required to allow me to race in Turkey,” said Kovalainen, who was discharged from the hospital on Monday.
Kovalainen will rest while McLaren investigates the crash, which the team believes occurred when a wheel rim failed.
It’s another obstacle for McLaren in a bid for its first title since 1999. This season’s turbulence follows the campaign in 2007, when the team was roiled by a spy scandal and Fernando Alonso’s testy relationship with Hamilton.
Dr. Steve Olvey, a fellow of the FIA institute for motor sport safety, said on Tuesday that Kovalainen was lucky to be alive.
“Not really that long ago, that could easily have been a very devastating crash, even a fatal crash,” said Olvey, who first worked as a track physician at Indianapolis in 1966.
“It’s just a testament to all that’s been done in the last several years to make the cars safer and the race tracks and barriers they run into safer.”
The tire wall destroyed half of Kovalainen’s car and left the driver out of sight. It took race stewards nearly 10 minutes to pry his mangled car out, with his exposed feet sticking out of its front.
Olvey expects the FIA to look how it can remove drivers from wrecks more quickly. He also won’t be surprised to see Kovalainen driving at Istanbul.
“Before we would just have to guess and go on kind of how the driver felt and length of time from the crash. Now we have a scientific way to determine when to go back,” Olvey said.
The 23-year-old Hamilton could provide Kovalainen with the perfect support. Hamilton was stretchered out of his car at Nurburgring last year after slamming into a wall at high speed.
Hamilton said he had full confidence about slipping into the McLaren again despite the mechanical failure.
“If you let those things get to your mind then you are in trouble,” Hamilton said after the Barcelona race. “Our car should be strong in Turkey … where hopefully Heikki will be back in his usual fine form.”
He’ll need to be if he does return.
Ferrari will be confident going into Istanbul. Massa won there for the past two years and Raikkonen won there in 2005 while driving for McLaren.