Analysis: We look at Robert Kubica F1 test traces as Nico Hulkenberg hails “great comeback”
Posted By: James Allen  |  08 Aug 2017   |  10:58 am GMT  |  44 comments

F1 is on summer shutdown until the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa on August 27, but the chatter continues around the in season test at the Hungaroring last week and in particular Robert Kubica’s performance in the Renault.

Current Renault F1 team driver Nico Hulkenberg has described it as a ‘great comeback’, as the Pole managed 142 laps with a best time of 1m18.572s, the fourth fastest time that day.

With the help of a JA on F1 engineering colleague, formerly in race operations for one of the F1 teams, we have plotted the lap times from the day. This is how F1 teams will typically plot the test runs and these charts form the basis of their analysis of the drivers being evaluated, as well as the test parts on the cars, the tyres and other factors.

Lap time is down the vertical axis, time of day across the horizontal. Lap times towards the bottom of the table are the fastest. (Click to enlarge)

Kubica’s performance (yellow traces) is relatively easy to read.

He did a few longer runs, just before and then after lunch. The one before lunch looks quite consistent. The one straight after lunch was quicker initially and then went a bit to pieces.

The qualifying style runs at the end of the day are again a bit erratic. They are only just over a second quicker than the morning’s runs, which were multiple laps.

We don’t know the fuel load from the morning, but from experience it is unlikely they will have started him out on low fuel. So assuming they want him to have the best possible experience and outcome from the test, it is likely that they dropped the fuel later on to something relatively low for his qualifying runs at the end.

If this is the case, then the one second delta isn’t big enough, which could indicate that he might have been struggling fitness wise by the afternoon, although there could be other factors we are not aware of and the fuel load is important. That said, his quali run was interrupted by a red flag, so he never really got the chance to show what he could do.

To even be there and drive an F1 car is impressive given the severity of his injuries in early 2011 and Kubica said that whatever happens next, he is happy that he did this. But the test and the programme leading up to it has created expectations that the Pole may make a dramatic comeback.

Hulkenberg spoke to at an event in Holland this week and said that the Pole had done well to cover the distance he did and to set the lap times on a physical track like the Hungaroring.

“To be honest, I don’t have much information. I wasn’t on-site. I had some information and I obviously saw the laptimes. I think, for him personally, obviously a great comeback”, Hulkenberg said.

“After the severe accident and injuries he had to come back and drive a modern Formula 1 car and to do 140 laps, just like that, is quite impressive.

“Especially at a track like Budapest, which is very physical. So respect for that. And I think the performance also, it seemed alright.

“So I’m not sure what’s going to happen, what Renault wants to do, but the test was OK, I think.”

Analysing Lando Norris and George Russell’s performances
We can also look at a couple of other drivers of interest: the rookies Lando Norris in the McLaren Honda and George Russell in the Mercedes (for two days). Both are very highly rated, have strong development roles within their teams and are expected to become F1 drivers in the next couple of years.

Norris (black trace above) did virtually all push-cool-push qualifying style short runs. He also did some aero work after lunch (which we have deleted off the plot) and the rest is performance runs. So there is not much to analyse in fact.

The only thing one can say is it looks like his times were coming down steadily with each run in the period before lunch. Vettel did a short qualifying style program in the morning, which is also on the plot to try to allow us to draw some comparisons. But it is difficult to draw meaningful comparisons.

We can say that Norris perhaps generally didn’t get the best out the tyre on the first lap, which is to be expected for someone without F1 experience; his second push lap was often very close in pace. But then such can sometimes be the vagaries of Pirelli tyres – Sebastian Vettel did the same on his last and fastest run – so again firm conclusions are tricky to reach.

The second plot (above) has got George Russell (green trace) on in the Mercedes for relative comparison.

Again, the lap time is down the vertical axis, time of day across the horizontal. Lap times towards the bottom of the table are the fastest. (Click to enlarge)

He tended to do a ‘pushed’ first lap with energy used then a recharge lap and then a decent length sustainable run each time. There is some variation across the first pushed lap and the last run looks slightly messy, but apart from those examples, the runs do look very repeatable, which is what the teams are looking for.

Tyre degradation is quite high, but he did the same each run and this will have been useful for the team. So overall the conclusion is that he did a pretty decent rookie’s first day.

What do you think about this analysis? How do you rate what you saw from Kubica, Norris and Russell? Leave your comments in the section below

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For what reason is this year “a tad too early”
The sooner the better


I don’t want Kubica to build false hopes. He needs to do a season in F2 before attempting F1 to build the needed stamina and get his reflexes back. Then see if he is up to the task.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have Robert back in F1. It would be fabulous for both him and the sport. But I would also hate to see false hopes and ultimately disappointment be his if he can’t measure up. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that Formula 1 is cold-blooded. If you aren’t fast enough or strong enough or focused enough, you are gone. With few exceptions.
Good luck Robert. You deserve another shot. I hope you make it.


On the face of it, a great test for Kubica. However, the paddock buzz about the possibility of a proper comeback seemed to die away awfully quickly after the test. I suspect the teams have seen the data and aren’t convinced he’s recovered quite enough. Just getting back in the car, doing as many laps as he’s done and posting the times he has is an incredible achievement and it’s not over for him yet, but I’d rate the chances of him racing next year as less likely. F1 is a sport ruled by heads, not hearts, and I just don’t think it’s very likely Renault will take a risk on him when they can probably get Carlos Sainz.


Bring Kubica Back!!!


I think that a sound strategy for both Renault and Robert Kubica now would be to put Kubica in a car in a few FP sessions this season and then decide further down the road, when both parties know more.

I have read that Kubica gives fantastic feedback to the team, so they would probably benefit from that, Kubica would get more testing and on different circuits, and Renault would not have to buy their way out of the contract with Palmer.


How much does it cost Renault that Palmer is not bringing a single point to the team? -> Much more than he (his daddy) pays them. Palmer, move aside for a racer that belongs in F1.


In any case, it’s surely logical to think that Renault’s first priority for 2018 must be to hire Fernando Alonso. They didn’t buy back this team just to run around near the back, they want to build back towards the front of the grid – and they must look at Hulkenburg’s recent performances and wonder what Alonso could do in the car. And if they refuse to supply engines to McLaren, they must have a reasonable shot at being Alonso’s best option for 2018.
It seems to me that it’s only if they can’t get hold of Alonso, and if Carlos Sainz is also out of reach, that a gamble on Robert Kubica could be on the cards.



Whose cars are the drivers using for this test? Eg for Mercedes, it is Hamilton’s car or Bottas’ car? It is a brand new engine and gearbox being used?


To repudiate some poster’s claims;

Renault’s test was so focused on a potential return that they included left and right hairpins, to see if he could negotiate them. Kubica did all that was asked of him.

Kubica also passed the FIA extrication test, getting himself out out of the cockpit within 5 seconds. He accomplished this at his very first attempt.

My view is that he was driving more than quick enough and more importantly was very consistent. According to Renault he provided technical feedback of “remarkable sharpness and insight”. Waiting until next year doesn’t seem necessary to me, he passed all the tests, everything thrown at him and he has had 6.5 years to get ready, especially training hard the last 18 months. Forget 2018, if he’s not ready now then he never will be.


One thing’s for sure. When Kubica returns he will be a formidable competitor on the track.


Why not let RK finish the season in Fernando’s McLaren? Let Fernando ponder what he is to do in 2018+. Pressure is off Renault, and it would give Robert seat time for evaluation. 🙂


Thank you, James.

I don’t know why people repeatedly mention something about fitness; over the course of the entire, day, one can see that Kubica is as fit as anybody testing?!

The consistency of Robert’s runs is what jumps out at me; the only question is, is it fast enough?
There seems little question that his driving is very, very stable and reliable, above average, even for current drivers.

The rookies do indeed seem quite good.

But I’d really like to see Kubica driving at Spa 2017!


That’s the point of the test isn’t it? Renault were testing the car as much (more so) as they were testing Kubica. And what you need for that is consistency. So Kubica delivered what was asked and that’s encouraging. Is it enough for a full drive at Spa? Too soon in my opinion, – a practice session should tell us more. But what do I know!?


Hi James,
Can you confirm that the long upward vertical tails indicate a single lap stint?
Thanks in advance,


Everybody would love to see him make a successful comeback, but I have an awful feeling that while he may be tantalisingly close to being good enough, it might not quite be good enough.
If Renault are serious about considering him for 2018, they should surely give him a run out in P1 or P2 at some of the remaining races. However much they might wish him well, it would be crazy to just give him the drive without seeing how he could cope for consistency and outright speed in a real-life situation.


Hope this question won’t sound ‘rude’ but please could someone (who knows) tell me to what extent is Robert’s arm currently disabled? Is it ‘fully functional but weak’, or are there physical movements he actually can’t do with it (I heard they had to shift steering wheel controls to the other side). Can he shake hands when I meet him?! 🙂 Still we all wish him the best of luck!


I think considering everyone in front of Kubica had just spent the weekend racing at and learning the Hungaroring track that Robert did very well considering he hadn’t driven there in a single seater for 6 years their where a lot of drivers behind him with a lot more recent experience of Hungary and more experience of 2017 cars


James, I guess what we really would like your opinion on is if you think Kubica will make it back to full time racing in F1?


Nice inside, thanks James.

Just like to add few info’s. According to Ricardo Penteado, Robert didn’t do a proper qualy runs, with low fuel & fresh tyres. There was a plan at the end of the session to do that but unfortunately it was interrupted with red flags. Also at his best recorded lap he had more fuel on the board then just for a one lap. That’s encouraging.

I was present at the test, and can also add that his runs on ultra softs were compromised with yellow flags. But honestly, the test wasn’t about setting the stunning one lap times. For Robert it was more to get familiar with the completely new car, evaluate also new for him Pirellis and trying to make his drive as natural as it could be. I think, he managed this quite well.

I was watching most of the day at T1. At the beginning he was really struggling with the balance of the car in the middle of the corner. He was really hesitating in the mid phase, even did one spin. The rear was really loose and nervous, but each run
was more confident and better then previous one. They probably did some changes in set up too. But what stuck me the most was the long runs at the end of the morning session. He was completely on it, like in his good old days! Brutally precise, each braking was the same, each downshift was copy-paste of the previous one like in the clock. If you would filmed it, you’d have probably thought that someone fabricated the video by repeating it 12th times. That was pure Robert (or Robot) Kubica at his best like in first stint at Malaysia ’08. And after the one hour break he was even more outstanding. If you had seen him, you wouldn’t have thought that this boy has been away for more that 6,5 years in F1.

His performance, confidence and clinical consistency just gave me goosebumps (and little sweaty eyes too…). He’s still got it! And that was just one testing session. After that what I saw and witnessed, I think it’ll be definitely more to come.


I had the same feeling there!! watching him doing laps near 1m21 one by one electrified me. I got this feeling till now and i think it’ll stay with me forever 🙂


@maciotacio — well said and ditto on the quality of the article. That’s the reason for appreciating this blog.

Only time will tell what happens and where the players will go. No reason for anyone to jump to conclusions or make declarations.


Cool! Thanks for the feedback


I’m on the side of wanting to see Kubica return to F1. If his fitness did effect his later times it seems this would improve with time, since this is his first real time back in an F1 car in many years. The guy knows how to drive, no doubt. Palmer has had some pretty crummy luck for sure, but also doesn’t seem to have the potential someone like Kubica would have. Unless Renault have someone else in mind for 2018, why not put Kubica in the car for the remainder of this season to see where he is really at by the end of the year?


My heart wants Kubica back in F1. My head’s telling me he’s going to miss out, but it won’t have anything to do with Jolyon Palmer (and probably not Sergey Sirotkin or Oliver Rowland, either).


Hulks hails great comeback.
JP hails a great stitch up.
Renault hails a great sneaky move.
Kubica as much as he is showing a great drive.
Will not be able to compete with an extensive F1 race with alot of steering input like Monaco Singapore.
He will be a risk to other drivers and how fast he gets out of a halo bolted F1 car.
I’d rather see a young buck in the car than Kubica.
It’s great but he 8s a sitting Duck waiting for a pile up.


I suspect Hulkenberg would rather have a not-quite-fit Robert Kubica across the garage than Carlos Sainz.


It may be worth holding Kubica back for 2018. He will undoubtedly be slightly unprepared fitness wise anyway for the 2017 cars regardless of the injury and this will have given him an important insight of how much further he needs to take his fitness.

For the team it would allow them to give Palmed a dignified exit and provide some excitement around their own launch for next season where they will be fighting against the story of Merc vs Ferrari and possible a resurgent McLaren and a Red Bull genuine contender.

thomas in adelaide

😀 Since when does F1 care about dignified exits?


When they cost a lot of money – Renault would owe Dr Palmer a chunk of change if they dropped Jolyon mid-contract.


Thanks for the info JAF1!
The close dispersion of data points show that all drivers had it all under control.
Kubi is fine, but the rookies were indeed impressive.
I guess the games and virtual simulators really prepare the drivers for testing.
But the mental part doesn’t follow it, as seem recently with Max and Palmer.

Without your input about Russell on a charge-no-charge program would make us think that he overcooked the tires and had to cool of in the following laps.

It looks like Kubi is fine and Renault/Dacia sells a lot of cars in Poland, but I would go with Norris and Russell.


in difference to kubica … those “kids” are in F2, F3, 3.5Series for at least 2 races every second weekend .. its not only simulators ..

and thats why i think Robert did an even better job .. when was he last time in an proper Formula Car? … did just rallys

Torchwood Mobile

Not sure where, but I’m sure I read that Kubica had been doing GP3 to help prepare him for the first test we heard about. Although admittedly, I have not noticed him being mentioned when I have watched that series.

I know it is F3 now; I think this was before the name change.


I think he tested a GP3 car last year (not raced).

Euro F3 is still an FIA F3 car similar to the ones Vettel, Verstappen, Ocon etc drove. This series has been weakened by GP3. Hopefully they will be combined (insert comment about Stroll’s F3 Euroseries opposition last year here if so desired).

The confusion is that British F3 is what used to be the BRDC F4 championship (not FIA F3 Dallara used in Euroseries, but a Tatus built to FIA regs) until the FIA F4 championship came along and used the F4 name. These cars are not similar to the ones raced by Ricciardo, Alguersauri, Turvey, Hartley etc.


He did one test in a GP3 car earlier this year (at Donington, I seem to recall?). He certainly hasn’t raced in the series.


missing the chart: “Norris (black trace above) did virtually…”


Great feature, I was looking forward to this.


What an awesome analysis! Great job and very balanced comments. Not often one sees such a great piece of work!


Robert told Roberto Cinchero that because of the yellow and red flags at the end of the test he couldn’t simulate proper qualifying run.
Here’s the link to the article with the quotes of Renault engineer Ricardo Penteado:


I remember reading about that somewhere, too. I also remember Kubica saying somewhere that given another test, he could have gone significantly faster.


Given a test I could go significantly faster than anyone. (Easy to say, harder to do.)


@aezy_doc; Kubica doesn’t come across as someone who gets carried away into fantasy realms very often, so I think his self-assessment should be taken seriously.


Any chance there’s an “English” version available. Thanks.

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