September 11th, 2012 (F1plus / James Parker).- While the Italian Grand Prix was in full swing last weekend, an event occurred that marked perhaps the most exciting news in the Formula 1 world this season outside the racetrack, and perhaps paves the way for one of the best comeback stories in F1 alongside that of Niki Lauda and CART champion Alex Zanardi.
That news was the comeback to Motorsport of the much missed sensation Robert Kubica, and with it brings some much needed positivity to a situation that was getting more and more desperate as time passed. A couple of months ago I had an article published that examined the progress on Robert Kubica’s recovery and how much it effected the then Renault team during the 2011 season without their number 1 driver to build a car around. I think the 2011 season had proved to me all I wanted to see in regards to that hole Kubica had indeed left at the team, which culminated with them struggling throughout the second half of the calendar with development issues.
Prior to Robert coming back to competitive Motorsport last weekend, there had been positive signs from his camp that progress was steadily being made in regards to his recovery with operations becoming less and less of an occurrence and the healing process gathering momentum. Although Robert’s elbow was still of concern to some of the doctor’s in regards to full movement, he went on to test a Ford WRC car in late August alongside Petter Solberg and Jari Matti Latvala at an unknown stage in France. After positive reaction from the personnel at Ford present at the event, Robert took the hugely brave decision to then go and enter his first competitive race meeting in over 18 months since that horrific accident in 2011 racing in the Ronde Gomitolo di Lana, an Italian domestic rally.
Of course after last weekend the news of the final result from the rally spread like wildfire through the internet where I am sure everyone in the Motorsport and F1 fraternity now know that Robert Kubica was fastest on all four special stages to come home a magnificent 1 minute ahead of the field to win comfortably. While that news in itself is fantastic given the condition of the pole only some 6 months earlier, there was still some concern to raise that was all too evident during the celebrations afterwards. Robert was severely lacking movement in his right arm and lifted both the trophy and champagne bottle with his left hand, all while his right was being used as little as possible. There was also a sleeve present on the arm of the Polish driver that was present to cover up the worst of the scar tissue still present on the arm.
Now it has been rumoured that another operation is indeed scheduled throughout mid September for Robert to have work done on that wrist to remove a lot of scar tissue that is affecting the ligaments and tendons in the hand and fingers that are limiting his movement. This could be the reason behind the lack of movement in the left hand last weekend in Italy and perhaps that operation will unlock the key into releasing the left wrist and hand, to develop all the natural movement back once again. Now while this result is a hugely incredible step forward in the rehabilitation process and the progression back towards Formula 1, until that operation has been considered a success will Robert surely look to capitalise on this next stage and begin to build up the strength once again the arm.
The positives are there however, it is a testament to Kubica’s determination that a driver that was so close to never racing again, has come back just as strong to compete at the highest level and win once again. Many feared that it was once again dangerous to step into a car that nearly took his life, however it is situations like this that define the good racing drivers from the very best. Last weekend’s performance had shown that he was not scared to once again push himself and the car to the limit, trusting that it would do what he says. It has proved that the raw undeniable talent he had started to show throughout 2010 in Formula 1 had not disappeared along with the crash some 18 months ago and that is the most important factor here alongside incredibly sharp reactions. That ability to put the accident to one side and not let it destroy his commitment is the sign of a driver who has then the ability to make it back to the pinnacle of Motorsport, where he belongs.
While in real terms it is a relatively small step back to where Robert wants to be, it is an incredibly huge step in the recovery process and one which has proved he is not scared to once again drive a racing car in anger and put total faith in the machine. But what are the next steps in the long journey back to where Kubica needs to be – Formula 1?
The remains of Robert Kubica's rally car after his horrible accident in early 2011.
Well of course this was never going to be an easy task, and the pole has shown huge determination and grit to put himself in the position once again to be racing. However while rallying does require frequent and frantic use of the steering wheel with eloquent precision, the brutal G Forces that a driver is subjected to in Formula 1 is evidently not there in the same way. While steering wheel movement is hugely reduced from that in a rally car, the G Forces that are going through your body are incredibly tough. It is these forces that will overwhelm the pole if the arm is not in its top condition once again. This means that an incredibly long process will now have to begin with strengthening both the arm and wrist, to get it back to the stage where Kubica can drive a Formula 1 car in comfort with as little pain as possible.
The big talking point lingering over Kubica’s comeback however is when will he return to Formula 1, and who will he be racing for? Well this progress was extremely surprising given the lack of news regarding the rehabilitation process in recent weeks. However 2013 may still be no walk in the park for Kubica given the work that would need to be put in over the winter to get himself back up to full fitness and strength. Only then is he faced with the prospect of where does Kubica go?
With Ferrari, RedBull and Lotus all fully confirmed for 2013. Massa looks ever likely to be retained for one more year, where could the pole realistically go? We all know that he was on Ferrari’s radar to partner Alonso in 2012, however with the position of Massa looking ever more secure and his true speed yet to be revealed when driving an F1 car in anger it may not be a case of jumping straight back into the sharp end. It is possible however that he may look to his previous employers – Sauber and his old Team boss; Peter Sauber.
Having enjoyed good success in both 2007 and 2008 which enhanced his reputation as “one to watch” he shares good memories with the team that brought him his first victory and numerous podiums. Alongside Perez he could potentially once again remind us why he is so missed from the F1 paddock and let his talking happen on the track. One thing will be certain whatever happens however, that being the first season back in F1 will be the crucial make or break year for Kubica’s Formula 1 career. When he does come back whether it will be in 2013 or later (2014/15 maybe?) he will need to once again prove to the teams at the sharp end that he can compete at the very top and perhaps rekindle that talk of becoming a World Drivers Champion.
It is a long journey still for Robert, however the progress he has shown in these past 3 months have surely made his fans go into frenzy and opens up a tantalising prospect of the idea of the pole returning to Formula 1 an ever distinct possibility.