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Doctor gives his view on Kubica’s chances of F1 comeback
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Doctor gives his view on Kubica’s chances of F1 comeback
Posted By: James Allen  |  28 Apr 2011   |  10:39 am GMT  |  68 comments

I’ve been sent an interesting Q&A from colleagues at Italian website 422.com with Dr. Francesco Lanza, director of Orthopaedics at Santa Corona Hospital in Pietra Ligure, who carried out operations on Renault’s Robert Kubica, after his rallying accident two months ago.

Photo: Darren Heath


It’s worth highlighting because it is an independent point of view on Kubica’s situation and his chances of coming back to F1.

Lanza says that the Pole is” definitely fine, generally the situation is
very satisfying.”

What made you decide about letting him leave the hospital?
“It was already scheduled, because you can’t stay for six-seven months in a hospital. After two and a half months, you should expect that. He needed to start his daily life again. I think that nobody wants to stay in a hospital. It was an joint decision, but a plan that we have been working on for some time. We were waiting for him to move by himself: he was limited by some fractures on which he couldn’t put any load and by the shoulder that didn’t let him use crutches. When he gained his independence, it was clear that he wanted to go home.”

What are the plans in the next few months?
“In the next few months he will have to undergo some checks to monitor the healing of the fractures, while he will go on with physioterapy in close locations to his home. Then he will come back to us to check the evolution, more or less monthly.

“Then, for the rehabilitation of the hand, he’s working with physiotherapists. With us, the rehabilitation is less specific and partly already done: the shoulder, for example. The rest will be done by others as well, as his doctor, who has a dedicated center for sports activity (Dr. Ceccarelli).”

As far as his comeback in an F1 car is concerned, what’s
your opinion at the moment?

“You can’t make any predictions. I’d say the perspectives are definitely much better than when we started and this is very important.

“We can’t commit ourselves, but we can’t either dismiss anything. His functional recovery surprised us as well: if this will let him do something very specific as driving a Formula One car, it’s still very difficult to say. But we have the
necessary conditions, even higher than we expected. We can sincerely say we are optimistic that this person could recover a good function of the limb. With the will and the grit he has shown, we can’t rule anything out.

“Remember that the biggest injuries were with the nerves, which have long lead times to heal: at least six months. But we already have encouraging signs of recovery. I think a first time to take stock of the recovery has to be done six months after the accident.

“He’s very motivated. Maybe because of his job, he’s used to have grit in the car and he shows it in all the aspects of life, as well.”

It will be a long road. The nerve injuries were very severe and it will be a miracle if he recovers enough feel to drive an F1 car on the limit as he used to. But clearly Kubica is massively motivated and his career to date shows how he has been able to overcome adversity to reach the top. It’s a fascinating human interest story.

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68 Comments
  1. Chris of Adelaide says:

    I wish all the best for Robert and I cant wait and I hope to see him back in an F1 car, only time will tell I guess.

    1. yulinda says:

      i agree. Will be great to have him back

  2. James Walton says:

    Every time I read about Kubica I shake my head in amazement at how far we have come technologically and medicinally in the last 30 years. To have all his limbs and still walk is nothing short of a miracle.

    1. Dave Roberts says:

      You are quite right with this comment. It is a measure of our expectations of modern technology and the skill of surgeons that we are all contemplating whether he will drive an F1 car rather than whether he will be able to simply use his hand for every day normal life.

    2. Pawel says:

      How very true. Also the way you combined technology, medicine and miracle in your comment seems to capture the scale of Kubica’s case. It’s meaning goes well beyond F1.
      Someone’s said that “a technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic”. Technology, skill, knowledge, and the will to recover. Miracle.

  3. James F says:

    It’s great to hear positive news regarding his progress. F1 drivers are a pretty determined breed, so I’m sure he’ll recover a lot faster than your average joe.

    Can anyone think of a driver that’s returned to racing after similar injuries? I recall drivers overcoming a variety of injuries, Lauda, Zanardi, etc but I can’t think of a driver that’s been in the same situation as Kubica.

    I really miss him on the track and would like to see him back as soon as.

    1. Marcus says:

      I think as James Walton said above in comment #2, science/tech/meds have come so far that in the past there probably would have been no hope of coming back from this.

    2. GoWebberGo(UNOC) says:

      Depends how you define ‘same’.

      One could argue Massa was in a worse situation given that he was unconcious after being hit in the head and risked brain damage.

      Schumacher was out after braking his legs if your looking for someone who has come back after damaging limbs.

      Hakkinen has gone through a bit since his crash/s.

      1. Ryan Eckford says:

        I feel this situation with Kubica is similar to the Schumacher in certain aspects. I feel Renault are about to turn the corner and become a huge force in the sport. This is similar with Ferrari when Schumacher broke his leg in 1999 and look at the results he achieved with Ferrari for the 5 years after that. Even though the injuries are different and take different periods of time to recover from those injuries, I see some similarities in both these situations.

        I am sure with Kubica’s mental strength and endurance, which is hard to comprehend for a normal person that he is every chance of not only returning to F1, but bigger and better than he ever was before. I just have that belief that this is going to happen. I am not sure if I am going to be right, but time will ultimately tell.

      2. Henry says:

        “I feel as though Renault are about to turn the corner and become a huge force in the sport”

        I’d dearly love to know why…

        and remember the two championships they recently won?!

    3. Ghost in the Ruins says:

      Johnny Herbert after his big shunt at Brands had to overcome horrific injuries to his feet. He was never the driver he once was after that.

      Martin Brundle is another who had a major accident in 1984 which probably also blunted his skills slightly as a driver.

      I think it’ll be amazing if kubica can come back to F1 and be competitive, and I wish him every bit of luck in his recovery.

      1. Stirling Moss, signifcantly, recovered from various crash-related injuries at a time when medical science was far more primitive.

    4. Luca says:

      Alex Zanardi is a living testament to what can be achieved with determination and focus. The fact that he came back to race again and be competitive is simply astounding!

      Gives us all hope, especially RK! Hope to see him towards the end of the year.

    5. CJD says:

      not really similar, but even hand cut off (by a helicopter incident) – was Naninni, he never was able to recover for F1, but lesser series he drove..

  4. atAdamKlukF1 says:

    No doubt in my mind Kubica will return. If he doesn’t he still has his life and his health and that is the most important part, but I hope he will be back next year in preparation for his 2013 Ferrari drive ;-)

    1. Michael Prestia says:

      No chance he drives for Ferrari now.

      1. @AdamKlukF1 says:

        If he is back in F1 there is no reason he won’t drive for Ferrari. If he has recovered enough function to be able to drive an F1 car, he will be at his best and even better so why would he have “no chance” of driving for Ferrari?

      2. Joe S says:

        Because his best , if, he returns, may not be the same level as the best before the accident. We really can’t assume anything. If he does come back, he might not be able to hit the same level. While being optimitic is good, we must also be realistic. However, we all hope his skill will be the same as it always was.

  5. nsx says:

    Best wishes to Robert. He must be dirty to be missing out on such a crackajack season so far. A season where strategy isn’t simply a case of stay out as long as possible, but a true game of strategy, where extra pitstops can actually work, because people can actually overtake – if they’re good enough and have the courage.

    China was a fabulous dry weather race, with everything from aggressive balls out driving to defensive driving, tyre conservation and strategic thinking. A race where there were no less than six drivers in the hunt for the victory. Incredible. The only people complaining are the people who complain about everything. People who are pleading for races with no overtaking and where faster cars are stuck in traffic should be forced to watch the 2009 Valenica GP, again and again. After all, that’s what they want!

  6. Jimmy says:

    Really good news in my opinion, given the fact that in the hours following the accident we were reading about Robert losing his hand. I can’t wait to see him back in his car.

  7. F1Fan4Life says:

    You can do it Robert! I’m recovering from one completely torn ACL knee ligament and 2 torn knee ligaments right now so I am kinda following your story and taking some motivation from you. Right now I think you are doing better than me cos I’m lazing around all day and posting on forums….but we shall prevail!

    1. Guy says:

      Get well soon buddy

    2. MISTER says:

      Wish you and Robert the fastest recovery.
      Driving again an F1 car (considering the G-force involved)will be amazing. I am a Ferrari fan and I would love to see Robert driving the red car. He’s the real deal.

      Looking forward to read more good news about his recovery process.

  8. I was feeling really confident about that until I read the last sentance, “The nerve injuries were very severe and it will be a miracle if he recovers enough feel to drive an F1 car on the limit as he used to..” BUT it does end with saying Robert is very committed and motivated which he is.

    I really hope we see him back soon, and what a great story it will be!

    1. Ahmed says:

      Thats not a quote from the doctor, thats James own opinion of Kubica. The doctor never said that.

    2. ETM says:

      While I believe that the statement you quoted may be true, it was commentary by JA, not the doctor.

    3. Ah thanks guys, should have read it a bit slower! Either way, it might be a miracle, but I think it will be more Roberts determination that gets him back!

    4. RacerGil says:

      I am really quite surprised that this is the first comment that draws attention to that evident, and ominous last sentence.
      What is incredible in his recovery is the fact that he seems to be recovering functionality to his limbs, and that he will probably be able to lead a normal life. Doctors are surely addressing this issue first, as it is the most important one, to them. What we need to realize is that all the grit in he world is useless if you haven’t got sufficient sensation in your hand to be able to deal with the massive forces at work in formula 1. Furthermore, having to deal with the extremely demanding steering wheel controls could be next to impossible if you have no sensation in your finger tips. Clearly the jury is still out, and we can only hope.

      1. Blade Runner says:

        I think the main thing he needs to do is just hold the steering wheel properly, why all the concern about the buttons? There are multiple ways to operate them, for example foot control, elbows, moving his helmet and the way I think they will all be doing it soon, thought control, the military are doing this now with pilots its not science fiction, It is proven to work and with F1 being at the front of all types of development could be something they could do quite easily.

  9. Chris says:

    Thanks for posting this James.

    Hopefully Kubica will surpass all expectations and regain his seat. He’s a brilliant driver and an acknowledged future champion.

    However, even if he will be physically capable of driving an F1 car, will the nerve damage be such that he wont be able to compete effectively?

    I sincerely hope not.

  10. Marcus says:

    Good luck to him whatever he does. I have to say it is a great loss to F1 and Renault in particular this year. Imagine Robert in that Renault!

  11. David Selway-Hoskins says:

    I guess as an ex-pat Pom living in Australia I naturally support Mark Webber, Lewis, and Jenson, but I have to admire Robert’s skill and determination behind the wheel, and sincerely wish him well for a full recovery and return to F1

    David Hoskins

  12. Sergio says:

    I wish the best for you Robert. This could be one of those important races in your life that you have to win. Our prays are with you.

    Thank you James for that news. This is pure competition.

  13. Dave says:

    Several years ago I suffered trauma to my legs and spent months in hospital, initially feeling very sorry for myself. Shortly after my admission, Alex Zanardi had his crash and suffered injuries which were far more horrific than mine. The way with which he went about his recovery, and the determination he showed, were inspirational to me and I resolved to never again complain about my situation.

    If any good is to come out of Kubica’s crash, I hope that somebody somewhere is similarly inspired by the strength of his character.

  14. Chapor says:

    Great to hear some positive news. Robert, I wish you a full recovery. Will be looking forward to seeing you take a F1 car around a track towards the end of the year. At least once, okay… :-) You can do it. :-)

  15. Nathan Bradley says:

    I know nobody can say for sure, and I know you’re not a doctor James. But given your experience in the sport, have you ever seen an injury like that or as severe as that before that has then resulted in a comeback to f1?

    Thanks,

    Nathan

    P.S. Sorry if the wording of that question is a bit off, I’m a little under the weather lol :)

    1. James Allen says:

      I think the nerve element in the hands makes it unusual.

      1. PaulL says:

        Do you think Niki Lauda is a valid parallel? I would think burns and crushes are two of the most serious injuries the body can sustain. But I guess nerve damage means the limb has to learn to “ride a bike” all over again, much more drive an F1 car at his previous level.

        You only get one life though, so he has every reason to give his all to get back to the top. I wish him extremely well.

      2. GoWebberGo(UNOC) says:

        The more I read about this the more I believe that we will only know once Kubica tries his hand at driving again and racing.

        If he has to relearn everything from a motornuron (spelling?) perspective then his days as an F1 driver are over.

        If still has the feeling locked away somewhere and it’s just reconnecting the dots then he should be back as soon as he body reconnects itself and allows his ‘knowledge’ (let’s call it) to come back to his broken and damaged systems.

        From what I know, It depends on both the injury and the person and just as you walk without thinking about how, if he can ‘walk’ once all his body is working then he will be fine and good to go, if on the otherhand he hsa to relearn then he has problems.

        Add to that about ‘remembering’ how to do something meaning he hasn’t forgotten he just has it tucked away in a some part of him and it will look all over for him until something clicks in his minds and he remembers how to ‘walk’ again.

        From people I know they are the 3 situations that this could lead to. And it doesn’t matter how quickly or slowly he improves if he can still make ‘those’ connections.

        Being fit I think he should recover quickly and we will soon find out if everything sitll works the correct way.

        I’m guessing it should, but it is at the moment purely a guess.

        And one other thing… confidence. It takes massive guts and balls to drive and know that there is grip there and that you can react to the changes in grip as it arises, no matter where he ends up in racing he needs to get back that confidence.

        Massa is a pure example of this, he was clearly a few tenths slower due to not feeling as sure and set in the car after his crash, but after a year he is getting back and regaining the confidence in himself which is vitial for top drivers.

      3. AuraF1 says:

        Be interesting to see if Renault can devise a steering wheel control favouring another hand and pedal controls. Given the biggest long term problem is going to be reduced dexterity with nerve damage, it’d be great to see the team build a control system to give Kubica the best chance to win them some races.

  16. flintelli says:

    I bet Bernie wished he’d kept quite ref Bahrain now they are sentencing protestors to death! Get a grip we will not be racing there again

    1. Olivier says:

      You’re a bit off topic but I have to agree with you. Bahrein no longer is a worthy host to F1 and the world …

    2. mtb says:

      And the relevance to Kubica’s recovery is what exactly?

  17. Ben G says:

    KBO Robert, as Churchill said.
    (Facet biezaco na, according to Google Translate).

    1. Lilla My says:

      Haha! Google Translate is sometimes so funny! It doesn’t really make much sense in Polish, but I know what KBO means. Thanks ;-)

  18. Rich C says:

    The speed with which professional athletes recover from serious injury seems to always amaze medical ppl.

    They seem to have no real understanding of just how special these guys are: mental toughness, motivation, and superhuman physical condition lead to unbelievable recoveries.

    Mind and body these are just not your everyday ppl! Now that we are sure all his limbs will remain attached I am confident he’ll be back!

    1. Born 1950 says:

      A little lesson from life.

      Medics — like accountants and lawyers — are always a bit pessimistic about your chances of doing well in any given situation. Then if you exceed expectations you say, “see, look at me I’m terrific” and feel good about your performance. On the other hand if they encourage you by saying you will achieve a certain level, and then you fall short, you tend to be depressed and blame them for their incompetence.

      So, the message: never take much notice of your accountant, lawyer or medic about what you can achieve — he or she is naturally risk-averse and playing it safe because they want to keep you as a client.

    2. Andy c says:

      Agreed and I hope Robert continues his recovery.

      In this case Robert was lucky to receive very good care from a world leading hand specialist.

      As someone who had a bad knee injury and just lucked into seeing a specialist who treated quite a few pro golfers (lucked into with bupa) I can attest to what a difference the best quality care available can have.

      I look forward to seeing him back. If it’s a matter of willpower he’ll be fine.

      Hope to see you back soon Robert!

    3. Jonathan Lodge says:

      You don’t have to be a professional athlete to to recover from injuries swiftly.

      It is their determination to overcome injury that sets them apart. As part of their normal training they are accustomed to pushing through pain barriers and extending themselves.

      We all depend on our blood to carry everything necessary to maximise our ability to repair ourselves. Sitting still will never lead to a speedy recovery. The more Robert moves his fingers the more the blood will flow – little and often. It is the same reason leeches worked – and are still used to this day in some situations.

      As long as Robert doesn’t strain his repairing muscles his recovery will be as fast as possible. Let’s hope that the nerve damage does not prevent his return to F1!

      The other major problem for drivers is the mental approach that can suffer – as appeared to be Massa’s problem last year. Maybe having the accident in a rally car will be Robert’s biggest advantage in this respect.

      I guess we should also remember how his will power seemed increased after that shunt in Canada – he missed one race and came back more determined than ever. Having said that I don’t expect to see him doing any serious driving until end of season testing.

  19. irish con says:

    i cut my hand on the weekend in 2007 that spa was on. i cut nerves tendons and ligaments and even to this day it still is no were near what it was before and never will be. i think kubica has a hard fight in front of him. almost as hard a fight as the doctors had takin me to surgery on the formation lap of spa when my favourite driver and team was on pole and front row lol….

  20. Lilla My says:

    He’ll be back. I’m pretty sure about it. I know it’s wishful thinking at the moment as nothing can be certain and it’ll take some time before we know anything for sure, but I have a feeling he’ll be back and I’ll be really surprised if it doesn’t come true.
    Fingers crossed for Robert :)

    1. Andy c says:

      Let’s hope you’re right… Fantastic driver.

  21. craigyj85 says:

    I sincerely hope he makes a full recovery and at least gives himself a chance of getting behind the wheel of an F1 car again.

    However, I would hate to see him come back and be a shadow of his former self.

    To see a driver who everyone knew was one of the best in the business, just unlucky he never had a car truly capable of challenging for titles and to see him struggling for pace because of the direct impact of this very unfortunate accident would be very sad indeed.

    There’s a part of me who would love him to come back, get a good car under his bum which would allow him to fulfill that potential.

    I think with the character of the man he’ll be back in the cockpit anyway, such is the grit he’s shown to this point.

    But then there’s the other (admittedly very small) part of me (insert very small part joke here), that hopes he knows his own body enough to admit defeat if it comes to it, and not have to put is through the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs of this post.

    Get well soon Robert, F1 is worse off without you.

  22. It’s nice to see the whole F1 community wishing Robert a strong recovery and a return to F1.

    If he does make it back and can can drive at the same level, that will be a far greater miracle that his survival with all limbs more or less intact after such a horrific accident.

    Clearly a F1 driver has to be 100% fit to drive the car at all but to turn in even one respectable lap requires levels of ability, skill and delicacy with the controls that are in an entirely different league from those achievable by mere mortals like ourselves.

    Let’s wish Robert the very best possible recovery : whatever the eventual outcome it will be a triumph of medical science and in equal measure, if one man’s absolute determination to succeed.

  23. BMG says:

    It’s going to take a hug effort to get him back into a F1 car and be competitive.They will need to re-design his steering wheel. I don’t think we will see him driving an F1 car until 2013, if at all.

    Very sad, he is such a talented Driver.

  24. snailtrail says:

    Very sad news – If the reports are true how bad the damage was – I very much doubt he’ll be back to the same standard.

    My prediction is he will make it back to testing and maybe one or two races – but that will be it. Perhaps a little like Alex Zanardi? – I hope not…

  25. Warwick Gardiner says:

    My money is on him returning….you cannot deny talent and determination like his. Absolute gun – mark my words – HE WILL BE BACK.

    Go Robert

  26. Barnard says:

    Are there no issues with doctor patient confidentiality on printing something like this? I wish Robert all the best in the world, shame to happen to such a nice guy, just as he was reaching his peak.

  27. Nando says:

    It’s sounding increasingly like he’ll be back as a racing driver in some capacity even if it’s only touring cars.
    I’m wondering how the uncertainty will affect the teams development.

  28. Neville says:

    It appears to me that we all assume that Robert’s return to racing depends on full recovery of his right hand (he already walks so his leg is in good shape). However, I would like to point out to an extraordinary story of certain
    Archie Brown Scott, a Scottish F1 driver born with deformed limbs and yet driving in his twenties a racing car at very high level. Granted, this was over 50 years ago, but the question remains: is it really absolutely necessary for Kubica to regain 100% functionality in his hand in order to drive his F1 car at the same speed as before his accident ? Perhaps, not.

  29. James says:

    Hope Kubica gets back in an F1 car soon but my question here is how much has this cost Renault? Championship? Constructors? Three drivers on the payroll?

    1. Warwick Gardiner says:

      Payroll wouldnt mean a thing to them. – Constructors on the other hand? I bet Renault would be shattered. They have a decent car this year and with Kubica in it, Id reckon they would have been quietly confident of big things this season

  30. Jack says:

    Keep pushing Robert. We all wish to see you return to racing.

  31. Paweł says:

    Nevertheless it’s big relief at least to me.

    Should Robert needs miracle he will get past it over with 7th gear.
    I’m sure.

  32. Fred says:

    Stardom wouldn’t exclude a patient from the right to medical confidentiality, so it’d be interesting to know how an interview like this comes about and how it is viewed by the driver and patient.

    It must surely be the case that Kubica will have to agree that his doctor can speak about his medical condition, and possibly preview and sanction his comments.

  33. Jarek says:

    James, your last sentence is like life sentence to me. I suppose you have some confidential information and details from your Italian colleagues about Robert’s condition and from other doctors, sugeons etc., otherwise, knowing your great experience as a journalist, you wouldn’t make a comment like this. You made me sad. But I know you may be true.

  34. GWD says:

    I certainly wish Robert a very speedy recovery. But as to coming back, there’s probably some other issues than the hand. Firstly, the hand – assuming 85% recovery of hand strength & flexibility/function, this area should be fine. Being able to grip the wheel and maintain that grip through normal race forces shouldn’t be a problem. Moulded steering wheel grips would also assist this to the point of being a non-issue @ 85%. The elbow injury is where I think he’ll have the most trouble. Pronation and supination of the forearm occurs at the elbow, and the injury sustained in this area is likely to recur pain, weakness & loss of range of motion through the stresses of a GP weekend. The team may be able to fashion some sort of accommodation for this area, but this will be the main factor in his return to his best. As someone who has multiple joint replacements, I’ve asked physio’s repeatedly about elbow injuries and post-traumatic function, and the elbow becomes a very problematic joint. It doesn’t need too much damage internally to vastly reduce range of motion. This is not to say he wont be virtually fine eventually (I certainly hope he is, but it should take about 2 years…), but the elbow will take a lot of time to recover and may never be completely right again. Plus the stresses of GP may bring on early arthritis to the elbow, further exacerbating the problem.

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