Even as numerous World Champions (and potential World Champions) scorched the track at the first free practice session at the Spanish Grand Prix, all eyes were on a champion of a different kind. Robert Kubica, currently the test and reserve driver at Williams, made a heroic comeback with his first official F1 appearance in over seven years. This caps the chatter over the past two years of Kubica’s highly anticipated return to the sport after his life-threatening rally crash in 2011.
On paper, Kubica’s comeback was far from the fairytale story we were all hoping for. He was 19th fastest in the session and also suffered a spin at Turn 13. Williams as a team are struggling for pace. In fact, most of us still have a hard time reconciling to the fact that Kubica actually lost the 2018 racing seat at Williams to rookie Sergey Sirotkin. But when you put aside the expectations and watch Kubica at work in the cockpit and fighting all odds to be there — you realise that this is indeed the fairytale.
Talking to the media after his free practice session, Kubica was in a jovial mood, but his anguish with the car is also perceivable. “I didn’t feel any differently about today’s session — it felt reasonably the same as at all other times. Actually, I had less emotions today than I did when I first got back into the car last year. So it’s good that it is becoming natural again,” he said.
In the road to his comeback, Kubica’s driving style also received a lot of attention as he found ways around his physical limitations. He explained, “How I drive is how my body and limitations allow me to drive. And probably that’s enough, else I would not have been here today.”
Having overcome his own challenging circumstances, perhaps the biggest challenge for Kubica is the lack of opportunities to prove his mettle on the track. Everyone knows he is fast, but exactly how fast is he, comparatively speaking? Apart from Barcelona, he will be racing in two more free practice sessions this year — in Austria and Abu Dhabi. He admitted, “People forget that every driver in motorsport is practicing and training as much as possible. If I had the chance to drive the car every week like the permanent race drivers, there would be room to improve. Whatever is missing is because I’m doing it every two months.” With characteristic Kubica confidence, he added, “if something at all is missing!”
When asked by a curious scribe as to what lies next, Kubica cheekily replied, “My lunch break!” Humour aside, this question (and answer) captures in a nutshell the precarious positioning of Kubica as things stand. It’s difficult to say where the road ahead will lead. There are opportunities, but in a grid already overflowing with talented drivers (paid and otherwise) looking for a promotion, it will be difficult. A few weeks ago, Nico Rosberg stepped back from Kubica’s F1 management role. With Williams as a team suffering on pace, his role as a test driver is critical. However, the lack of pace of the car is also obscuring the true pace of Lance Stroll and Sirotkin. Kubica, however, is reluctant to compare himself to his teammates, explaining, “I do not compare my performance with my teammates because I know my own value.”
Since the start of the 2018 season, fresh calls to have Kubica driving more sessions intensified, but Williams chief technical officer Paddy Lowe recently clamped down on them. Age is definitely no longer on Kubica’s side, but talent and experience is, especially in light of the team’s young racing drivers (in their first and second F1 seasons). One thing’s for sure — Kubica’s Formula 1 story is not over yet. This is one driver that the grid cannot write off. His story continues to inspire (tellingly, his media session was among the most anticipated) and fans continue to wave banners bearing his name in the grandstands.
“This is an opportunity to live my passion for the sport. I still feel like a racing driver honestly, although I am not racing. But I am not thinking about what will happen in the future. But if I did not try to make a comeback to racing, I would not be here,” Kubica signed off.
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Updated Date: May 12, 2018 13:04:31 IST