Robert Kubica made a popular appearance at the Autosport Awards in London on Sunday night, openly discussing his adaptation back to an F1 car after the injuries that sidelined him in 2011. Williams is set to decide soon whether to back his comeback bid, or to take the money being offered by Sergei Sirotkin.
Kubica was asked to present a rally award on Sunday and noted that his time in WRC on the comeback road had played a key part in learning the importance of adaptation.
“It’s a completely different sport, it’s nothing to do with Formula 1. As a rally driver you need to be a much more flexible driver, you have to adapt to different conditions – the conditions are never the same, ” he said.
“As a circuit driver you have to be very precise, very consistent. As a rally driver you cannot do that.”
Kubica’s ability to adapt to different conditions has certainly helped with his aspirations to return to F1, and he has spent the latter half of 2017 preparing for a return to F1 against all the odds, testing with both Renault and Williams.
The F1 fraternity was palpably excited for the return of Kubica when his first Renault test was announced, although most were understandably curious as to whether he could overcome his arm injuries which – seemingly, at least – cut short a promising F1 career.
Kubica participated in his first F1 test in nearly seven years at Valencia, clocking up the miles in the 2012 Lotus E20 around the Circuit Ricardo Tormo. Featuring alongside reserve driver Sergey Sirotkin, who assumed something of a benchmark figure at the test, Kubica is said to have been faster than the Russian – although the data are a closely-guarded secret. In Yes Marina the impression was the other way around in Sirotkin’s favour.
When Carlos Sainz Jr. became an option for Renault, Kubica’s potential return was put on ice before Williams showed interest in assessing the 32-year-old Pole. After a few days testing 2014-spec machinery, Kubica got the chance to pilot Williams’ current-spec machinery at the post-Abu Dhabi Grand Prix tyre test.
Once more sharing duties with Sirotkin, who became a late contender for the Williams drive vacated by the retiring Felipe Massa, Kubica fared strongly, appearing in much better shape compared to his time in Renault’s RS17 at the Hungaroring, indicating that his pace increases with more time in a car.
The Pole drove largely on softer tyre compounds than Sirotkin.
There are limitations, which Kubica freely admitted to in his appearance at the Autosport Awards, but he was adamant that he was able to enact workaround solutions in his driving and that the physical side of driving an F1 car is not a problem.
“There was new stuff to learn, a new experience and, of course, the learning process of my body to get around my limitations.
“This year has been great for me and although I haven’t raced, what I achieved and how I progressed has been amazing.
“Honestly, I have much more limitations in my daily life. Of course, it’s not the same driving an F1 car as it has been in the past, but still my limitations are much less than it looks like.
“Most – about 90% – of my driving is the same as it was in the old days.”
There are a few small accommodations afforded to Kubica in order to get him comfortable with the current generation of F1 cars. His steering wheel, for example, has both up and downshift capabilities on one side to allow Kubica to change gear with his stronger hand. The cockpit headrest is also a little different to give him more space to turn the wheel.
From the outside looking in, it’s difficult to ascertain where Kubica stacked up in the Abu Dhabi test alongside Sirotkin and regular driver Lance Stroll, as runs were prescribed by Pirelli and – perhaps wisely – Williams has also given nothing away.
Williams management is deciding this week whether to go with Kubica or to take the money offered by Sergei Sirotkin, who also tested in Abu Dhabi with Kubica.
The story around Sirotkin is not as attractive as around Kubica, especially with the parallels with Frank Williams’ own comeback story, but the economic realities of F1 today are harsh for Williams.
Kubica believes he’s ready, and feels that he’s learned to adapt to F1 with his own limitations.
“The brain makes a big difference, it’s amazing how much potential the brain has and how quickly we can adapt to different conditions.
“Unfortunately, I was interrupted in my career, I had several injuries, but in the end I learned a way how to live with them, how to drive an F1 car with them, and in the end I’m quite surprised about the results that I saw.
As Williams makes a decision on who will partner Lance Stroll, all eyes will be on the Grove outfit as the rest of the driver market is sewn up. However, a Robert Kubica return would certainly provide F1 with something of a feel-good story.
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