(CNN) — Felipe Massa had emergency surgery for a fractured skull after a freak crash in final qualifying for Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
The Brazilian careered off at the 200kph Turn Four at the Hungaroring after being hit in the helmet by flying debris from rear wing of the Brawn GP of compatriot Rubens Barrichello.
2008 championship runner-up Massa was stunned and lost control as his Ferrari flew into a tire wall at high speed.
He was airlifted from the circuit to the AEK Hospital in Budapest and later underwent an emergency operation for the damage to his skull.
Massa is in intensive care on a respirator and remains under observation in an induced coma.
“The condition of the driver is serious, but stable,” said a hospital spokesman.
After the frightening incident, Fernando Alonso claimed a surprising pole position in a chaotic end to Saturday’s proceedings.
The Massa accident happened at the end of the second qualifying session and the action was suspended while officials checked for debris.
When the third and final qualifying session got underway it was Renault’s Alonso clocked the fastest time of one minute 21.559 seconds.
Sebastian Vettel, second in the title race to Jenson Button, will start alongside Alonso on the front row, with his Red Bull teammate Mark Webber qualifying third.
Button was only eighth fastest with Brawn GP teammate Barrichello 13th best, their worst qualifying performance of the season.
Button delayed his final qualifying run while his car was checked out after the earlier incident.
Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton was fourth best for the improving McLaren team with Nico Rosberg in fifth for Williams.
With the electronic timing system lost to the pit lane and the television coverage, former two-time world champion Alonso was at first unaware he had taken his first pole of the season.
“We have made a good step forward and the car did improve in the last two races. We are more competitive, but I don’t think we are as quick as these two guys (referring to Red Bull drivers Vettel and Webber),” he said.
“We will try to win, but being honest and realistic, our target is to get some good points,” added the Spaniard.