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"I felt like a different driver" - Kubica

Robert Kubica is preparing to drive a current F1 car for the first time in more than six years

By Sarah Holt,
C4F1 Digital Editor

Wednesday 2nd August 2017 was a landmark day for Robert Kubica as - for the first time in six and a half years - he drove a current Formula 1 car.

It was not the most auspicious start for the 32-year-old, who last took part in testing in February 2011, as he knocked the sign bearing Nico Hulkenberg’s name off the top of the Renault garage on his way out. 

“I was so concentrated that I forgot the cars were longer and wider,” he explained with a smile to a packed room of media at the end of the day. “But that was the only mistake I did.”

Kubica ended the day with the second-highest number of laps on the clock - 142 - and with the fourth-best time, a lap of 1:18.572 which was 1.448 seconds shy of Sebastian Vettel’s leading time for Ferrari.

It all looked impressive stuff for the Polish driver whose F1 career was in tatters after he sustained horrible, career-threatening injuries in a high-speed crash during the 2011 Ronde di Andorra Rally, which he was supposed to be taking part in for fun.

The most worrying injury was to his right hand, which was partially-severed and threatened his return to racing.

Amazingly, Kubica returned to rallying in 2012, in winning style, but the unique handling challenges of single seaters put them out of reach. 

Did Kubica’s rebuilt right arm still have the fine motor skills and muscle required to squeeze the steering wheel through high loads lap after lap after lap?

After two private tests in a 2012 Renault over the summer, Kubica was confident he had learned a lot more about his physical capabilities after his day in the official in-season test in Hungary. 

“Hungary is a difficult track and one of the most physical,” he said. “Coming here I knew once I was able to drive here probably I will be able to drive everywhere. 

“It was hard work, it wasn’t easy, which I’m not hiding, but it was good. In the end we have done over 140 laps and my fitness level is good, which is a good sign.”

There was also another sign of the thoughtful Kubica of old, the ambitious driver searching for that elusive extra edge. 

“There was a turning point of today,” he explained. “The first time I jumped in the car I didn’t have really time to think about what was going on, to reshuffle everything, to give priorities to things. I was just collecting information. 

“Once I got out the car, had a quick break and jumped back in at 2 o’clock I felt like a different driver.  

“It’s a good sign because a lot of people think you improve only by driving but you can improve also by thinking. And thinking where you can improve and this is what happened. If I was in the car tomorrow I could improve and would feel more familiar with the car.”

Kubica took part in a test where most of his peers are hopeful next generation drivers whereas the popular Pole is haunted by what could have been.

He won his first and only race in Canada 2008 for BMW Sauber but everyone inside F1’s paddock just had an inkling he was capable of more, perhaps even a world title given the right car. 

“Everything in his short grand prix career would suggest he is worthy of being held in the same regard as the five world champions on the grid - Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel,” C4F1 commentator David Coulthard said at the time of Kubica’s crash.

“And if you were putting together your own team, Kubica would be on a very short list of first-pick guys.”

When Kubica climbed into the car on Wednesday it was not about redemption for an unlucky “has-been” it was all about, what next?

Renault have batted away talk that Kubica could be back in a yellow and black car as soon as Spa, but have not ruled him out for 2018 if the test goes well. 

But what does the man himself say?

“My only plan is to take the flight back tomorrow morning to come back home,” he said in typically dry fashion.  

“I don’t know. We’ll see. I would like other opportunities but the reality is I don’t know. I will have to wait and see.”

For the loyal band of Kubica fans who chanted his name and cheered him on every lap - and for the F1 family around the world - we can only watch and wait with him.