Data check: Just how good was Robert Kubica - and is an F1 comeback feasible?
We at F1Bytes were super excited to hear that Robert Kubica has once again found himself behind the wheel of an F1 racecar. After a seven year absence Kubica demonstrated real pace in his recent testing with Renault. Clearly his injury has not blunted his incredible talent.
Is a fairy tale return to F1 possible? We certainly hope so. In this piece we will look at the stats to see whether it is feasible, whether there is any precedent for other drivers returning to F1 after so long, and what Robert's stats were like first time around.
Robert Kubica was tipped as a future world champion when he entered the sport in late 2006. He claimed a podium in only his third race and won the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix for BMW Sauber.
Tragically in February 2011 the career of one of the most promising young Formula One drivers was cut short. An accident in a low-key rally in Italy left him with a partially severed right hand.
Following the crash and after years of rehabilitation Kubica was physically able to drive again. Ironically he focused on rally, managing to win the World Rally Championship-2 in 2013. Unfortunately it was thought that limited mobility in his right arm would preclude him from returning to F1.
However in early June 2017 Robert Kubica, now 32, tested a 2012-spec car for Renault at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Valencia. Kubica out-paced the team’s quick junior driver Sergey Sirotkin (who drove the previous day) identifying the key areas of weakness in the car. The 115 laps completed were his first laps in an F1 car since a pre-season test at the same circuit in 2011. In that test, and just three days before his accident, Kubica had set the fastest time.
Following the June 2017 test Robert indicated he is now targeting a “proper comeback” to F1 - so far he has delivered. His third Renault test in a 2017 spec car was superb finishing 4th on the time sheets on the second day of testing in Hungary. He has also now completed two further tests for Williams.
So is a comeback feasible? And just how good was Robert Kubica?
How good was Robert Kubica?
In a generation that includes Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, Kubica was arguably the best of them all – according to Fernando!
In 2012, Alonso told Autosport’s Jonathan Noble how Kubica was “the best driver of the group”. The two-time world champion, considered by many to be the most complete performer in F1, admitted Kubica was the one he feared the most.
Lewis Hamilton was of a similar mind. He regarded Kubica as the best driver he had ever encountered as they made their way through karting and up the junior car racing ladder.
So what do the stats tell us? Below are the Head to Head stats between Kubica and Nick Heidfeld during their four years together at BMW Sauber. It was clearly a tightly fought battle but the stats suggest Kubica came out on top overall. “Quick Nick” had a longstanding and successful career including 13 podiums.
Season: 2006 – 2009
Drivers: Kubica v Heidfeld
Team: BMW Sauber
H2H Winner: Kubica (4/2/0)
In 2010 Kubica joined Renault and proceeded to wipe the statistical floor with his team mate, Vitaly Petrov, finishing eighth in the Championship.
Drivers: Kubica v Petrov
H2H Winner: Kubica (6/0/0)
Overall Kubica achieved one victory, 12 podiums, and 273 championship points during his five years in Formula One. Is there more to come?
A Kubica comeback in perspective
Notwithstanding Kubica’s long recovery from injury is there any precedent for a comeback after so long away from F1? In short…yes…but there’s records to be broken if it’s to be a successful comeback!
Below are the ten longest driver absences preceding an F1 comeback. In the right hand columns you can see the (conspicuously absent) podiums achieved by returning drivers.
Let’s for a moment assume Kubica returns to F1 for the first round of the 2018 Season. He would have not raced in Formula 1 for 2,688 days – no driver has ever scored a podium finish after that duration out of the sport!
Below are the top 25 drivers (ranked on duration out of the sport) who achieved at least one podium post comeback. Those drivers achieving more than 5 podiums are highlighted.
The list contains some significant names: Revson, Raikkonen, Lauda, Andretti. In fact Kimi Raikonnen had a similar career path to Kubica going from F1 to rally and back to F1, although for completely different reasons to Robert. Kimi was also only out of the sport for a comparatively brief 868 days. Needless to say if Kubica is to come back he will need to cover some unprecedented ground to be successful.
Should Kubica indeed mount a “proper comeback” and should his performance in the recent Renault test be replicated in grands prix, this could be one of the truly great sporting comebacks. We at F1Bytes very much hope to see it happen. Go Robert!
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