Defying The Odds: Robert Kubica Lines Up F1 Return With Williams

Seven years after his last race in Formula One, Robert Kubica is on the verge of a potential return to the high-profile sport in 2018. This news came about after Williams announced that they would be giving the Polish national two days of testing to assess whether or not he could be the replacement for a greatly inconsistent Felipe Massa.

Kubica, aged 32, drove in F1 from 2006-2010 for the BMW Sauber team and then for the Lotus-Renault team in 2010. He was retained by Renault for the upcoming 2011 season, but a horrendous pre-season rally accident in February of that year left the Polish racer with severe injuries and limited movement in his right arm. The physical damage he had sustained was epitomised by the fact that he was only released from hospital in late April – two and a half months after the accident. Since then, Kubica’s condition has meant that he has been absent from the grid for seven years, although he did make his rally comeback as early as September 2012 in the Ronde Gomitolo Di Lana. Remarkably, Kubica won the rally, finishing one-minute ahead of the second placed driver.

Kubica’s physical issues

Kubica’s arm injury from the incident six and a half years ago is one of the greatest stumbling blocks that is preventing a full-time return as an F1 racing driver. This is because the aggressive aerodynamics of the 2017 cars have made the machines more demanding to drive. It is, therefore, necessary, as Williams are going to do, to ensure that the Pole undergoes extensive testing before a decision can be made regarding his future.

Throughout the summer, Kubica undertook testing for his old team Renault, driving a Lotus E20 at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit, Paul Ricard and at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. He then went on to drive at F1’s in-season test at the Hungaroring in this season’s R.S.17. However, the French team decided not to proceed with Kubica as their driver, instead signing Carlos Sainz Jr for 2018. Thus, the Pole’s return to the Enstone-based outfit was not considered as the team were still said to be unsure of the physical viability of Kubica making a full-time return.

Yet not far from Enstone is Wantage – the home of Williams. Williams are said to be looking at Kubica, along with reserve driver Paul di Resta whilst there is still a chance Massa will be retained, to partner Lance Stroll in 2018. Kubica will have his work cut out though as Briton di Resta impressed the team at this season’s Hungarian Grand Prix where he stepped in for an unwell Massa. The 31-year old di Resta qualified only 0.7 seconds behind Lance Stroll despite having no experience of driving the 2017 FW40 prior to that session.

Upcoming testing with Williams

Kubica is said to be having two testing days with the Williams team after the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend, the first of which will be at Silverstone before heading to the Hungaroring – the race track where Kubica became the first Polish national to race there – for an assessment test. At this second test in Hungary, Williams will conduct two days of running, with Kubica driving on one of the days and di Resta driving on the other. Di Resta will effectively act as the benchmark to test Kubica’s pace and performance.

Is Kubica really ready to return?

Whether or not Kubica can impress Williams enough to be signed is doubtful, however. In August, Renault raised concerns over Kubica’s readiness to return to F1. The strength and mobility in his right arm, which was partially severed in the accident in 2011, in which he also suffered multiple fractures throughout his body, remains the main issue preventing Kubica getting behind the Williams’ wheel.

“We have some indication, some confirmation he is a fantastic professional, that he is extremely talented, that he has a huge hunger for racing and to make a return to professional racing whether in F1 or somewhere else. But whether he can race in F1, there is more work to be done.

“Have we definitively answered the question whether he can race again? No.” Cyril Abiteboul, Renault F1.

It is only fair therefore that Williams will want to establish his ability to manage their car through long, demanding corners – a persistent feature at the Hungaroring – and can turn it around a tight hairpin. Whether or not Kubica has the physical endurance in terms of the strength of his arm over a race distance is also a concern.

But Alessandro Alunni Bravi, Kubica’s manager, firmly believes the driver is ready to make a return and Kubica will be determined to use the Williams test as a chance to prove it.

“He’s happy, relaxed, and as we always said, we go step-by-step. The test with Renault in Hungary was very positive, in terms of performance, in terms of consistency. Robert had a very good feeling.” Alessandro Alunni Bravi, Manager of Robert Kubica.

A true warrior

Time will tell whether Kubica can make a long-awaited return to the sport where he raced in 76 Grands Prix, securing 12 podium finishes between 2006 and 2010. One hopes that such a man as Kubica, whom is scarred for life – physically, but also likely, psychologically – from a horrific accident, yet has the determination to return to the F1 track, can make it happen.