Robert Kubica will make an emotional return to Formula One next season just eight years after a horrific rallying accident that partially amputated his right forearm.
The Pole has been confirmed as Williams' second driver alongside rookie George Russell, having been the British team's reserve this year behind Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin.
“I would like to thank everyone who has helped me during what was a difficult period of my life over these last few years,” the 33-year-old said in Abu Dhabi, where he will drive for Williams in Friday's opening free practice, and also the host venue of his last F1 race in 2010.
“It has been a challenging journey to make it back to the Formula One grid, but what seemed almost impossible is now beginning to feel possible.”
Psst, who wants a sneaky peak at what you can expect to see in our quali show today?— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 24, 2018
Our @karunchandhok sits down with 2019 returnee Robert Kubica, who is excited to begin him comeback
Catch the full interview from 11:55am on @Channel4 #C4F1 #AbuDhabiGP pic.twitter.com/dk1ZVknic6
Kubica was the first Pole to take part in F1, making his debut in 2006 and finishing on the podium in just his third race. His first and only victory came in Canada in 2008, putting him top of the drivers' standings, and he finished the season fourth overall.
His only podium of 2009 came as runner-up in Brazil, and he moved to Renault the following year after BMW sold Sauber, scoring three more podiums before finishing fifth at the finale in Abu Dhabi to be eighth overall.
However, driving in a rally ahead of the 2011 season, he suffered multiple injuries after a high-speed crash, and the damage to his hand meant he couldn't return to F1.
After several years of rehabilitation and adapting to various forms of motorsport, he tested for Renault and Williams in 2017, but was beaten to the seat at Grove by Russian rookie Sirotkin.
“Being back on the F1 grid next season will be one of the greatest achievements of my life, and I’m sure with hard work and commitment we will be able to help motivate the team to achieve good things together,” said Kubica, who will drive for Williams with 20-year-old Russell at Pirelli's post-Abu Dhabi Grand Prix test sessions.
“Thank you again to everyone who has supported me and believed in me. I will finally be back on the grid behind the wheel of an F1 car, and I cannot wait to get back racing.”
Deputy team principal Claire Williams said she was “immensely impressed” by Kubica's “strength of character and tenacity to return to Formula One”.
“During this season his commitment to the team and the work he has put in behind the scenes has been unwavering, and he has become an established and much respected member of the Williams team,” she said.
“He has a level of determination that is remarkable to see; and he truly embodies the Williams fighting spirit. Having the consistency of Robert stepping up into this new role will be an important step for us as we look to fight our way back towards the front of the field.”
This season has been a major disappointment for the nine-time constructors' champions, rooted to the bottom of the standings with just seven points from 20 races.
Stroll is expected to join Force India after his billionaire father led a consortium to take over the team in August, while head of performance engineering Rob Smedley has announced he is leaving.
Kubica's deal means Force India's Esteban Ocon will be without an F1 seat next year, with only Toro Rosso yet to confirm their second driver – and the Red Bull junior team have already said they are not interested in signing the Mercedes-contracted racer.
The Frenchman was later confirmed as Mercedes' reserve driver for 2019.
"He’s going to be very close to the works team, to Mercedes, he’s going to be our reserve driver, our third driver," team principal Toto Wolff said.
"We hope to maybe do the odd test with him also. We’re looking at pre-season and in-season, but that is not sorted out yet. He will spend a lot of time in the simulator and be ready for a seat in 2020."
“I'm really excited to see what he can do.”— WILLIAMS RACING (@WilliamsRacing) November 22, 2018
Hear more from Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams as Robert Kubica is promoted to a 2019 race seat. pic.twitter.com/inrxMtGicy