The remarkable return of Robert Kubica to the F1 grid
Robert Kubica will compete in a Grand Prix for the first time since the 2010 Abu Dhabi GP at Albert Park in March. The big question is: how will he do?
Back in November, Williams announced they would be putting the Pole alongside George Russell for the 2019 season. It caps an amazing story as Kubica has achieved something special by getting a seat in such a highly competitive sport following his life-changing injury.
In 2011, during the winter break, Kubica had a major accident while taking part in Rally Andorra. It quickly became clear he was seriously injured. Thankfully, he survived. However, he was left with a permanent, life-altering arm injury. This makes his return heroic.
Before looking at what he might do this year, let’s take a look back at some of the amazing performances in the first part of his career which seemed destined to see him crowned World Champion one day until that life-changing crash.
1) Canada 2008
A year after a shocking crash at the same circuit, it was a magical day for the Polish driver at the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix.
He qualified 2nd and remained there until a Safety Car period changed the complexation of the race. His main rivals during that race, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen, collided at the exit of the pitlane and both men were out on the spot. However, with some of the other drivers one-stopping, he found himself with a lot of work to do still.
Critically, he cleared team-mate Heidfeld and built up enough of a lead over the German to maintain it after his second and final stop.
Kubica collected a superb win as BMW Sauber scored a memorable one-two finish.
2) Monaco 2010
In his one and only season with Renault, Kubica delivered some mind-blowing laps in qualifying. Monaco was probably the best of the lot.
The Polish driver qualified a stunning P2 on the grid; splitting the Red Bulls which were mighty fast in qualifying that year. In Q2, he was over a second quicker than team-mate Petrov. Quite frankly, the Pole’s Q3 lap is right up there with the best qualifying laps of this decade.
Despite getting jumped by Vettel at the start, he stayed in the top 3 and finished in a superb 3rd place, beating the Ferraris and McLarens fair and square. It was a weekend Kubica showed the massive talent and commitment he possessed.
3) Italy 2006
The race at Monza 13 years ago was only Kubica’s third start in Formula One – and he delivered a very special performance.
After ending up P6 in Q3, he made a storming start and found himself up in 3rd place. He then soaked up a lot of pressure from Felipe Massa in the Ferrari throughout the race like he’d be racing in the sport for many years.
While Alonso jumped him at the final round of stops, an engine failure for the Spaniard saw the Pole inherit 3rd again and claimed a magnificent podium finish for himself and the BMW Sauber team.
Starting all over again: can he compete at a high level?
After missing out on the Williams seat to Sirotkin for the 2018 campaign, it would have been easy for him to give up. Instead, he didn’t and got the drive for 2019 with the Grove-based team.
Kubica took part in three FP1 sessions last year and all of them were against Lance Stroll. At the Spanish GP, he went -1.246s quicker than the Canadian, but ended up a fair way behind him at Austria (+0.857s) and Abu Dhabi (+1.499s). Of course, they were only FP1 sessions and nobody apart from Williams knows what engine modes or fuel levels they ran.
In reality, the Polish driver is a rookie again and needs to prove to everyone that he has the ability and speed he showed back in the first part of his career in F1. As well as that, he’s going to have to learn a lot about the current cars and the Pirelli tyres, too.
He struggled to adapt to Bridgestones in 2007 (as did Raikkonen and Alonso) when switching from Michelins following the 2006 season. It’ll be fascinating to see how he does on the sensitive Pirelli tyres.
George Russell will be Kubica’s stablemate in 2019 and he shouldn’t be underestimated. The young Brit was excellent last year on his way to winning the Formula 2 title and also won the GP3 championship in 2017. He is an extremely quick driver and a possible star of the sport in the future.
It’s going to be a steep learning curve for Kubica this year and if the car is bad, that’ll make it a lot harder.
However, if he can match or beat Russell on a regular basis, it would be an astonishing achievement and it would be surely one of the greatest sporting comebacks seen in any sport.
Following his journey will be one of the most interesting stories in Formula One throughout 2019.