On February 6th, 2011, while competing in a rally event in Italy. Robert Kubica crashed heavily into a barrier that penetrated through his Skoda S2000 rally car that left him with a serious arm injury. Kubica’s injury was so severe that it was thought that it was the end of his racing career. More than seven years later, the Polish driver is on the verge of returning to Formula One, returning to the sport that he never gets the chance to show his full potential. A chance that Kubica himself thought before was impossible due to the severity of his injury. But, the answer may lies in the hands of WIlliams.
Kubica made his first racing comeback in rallying in September 2012 - the sport that ironically almost ended his racing career. The Pole won in his returning event by a margin of over a minute to the second place driver. After successfully winning the maiden WRC-2 season, Kubica moved up to WRC. Although he was quick and showed flashes of brilliance, however, his inconsistency often led to crash and slowed down Kubica’s momentum.
With a lack of funding, Kubica was out of WRC in 2016 and started pursuing other racing ventures. By the end of 2016, he got the chance to test the Kolles’ LMP1 car in Bahrain and proceeded to blow away his competition. Thus earning him a contract with the team in 2017, but he would dropped out of the team before the season began. And during May of this year, the Pole made his first single seater comeback in a Formula E test in Donnington Park for a possible venture. But his intention is clear: to make a comeback in Formula One.
Meanwhile at Renault, the team is scratching their head trying to find a replacement for the lackluster Jolyon Palmer. Noticing Kubica actively testing in different discipline, the team contacted Kubica for a test in the 2012 Lotus E20 at Valencia. The Polish driver would subsequently drafted to test the new Renault R.S.17 during the mid-season test at the Hungaroring. Although there were immediate interests in Kubica replacing the lackluster Palmer for 2018, the Enstone team would diverted their attention and loaned Carlos Sainz Jr from Toro Rosso.
Williams, however, gave the Pole another lifeline. Kubica then tested with Williams in their 2014-spec FW36 for two test in Silverstone and again in Hungaroring. With Kubica now the leading man to partner Stroll in the second Williams seat for the next season after multiple reports from different outlets.
Although Kubica is getting close to getting the seat at Williams, there are still questions in place determining whether the Polish driver would eventually take the seat at the Grove team or not.
AGE AND EXPERIENCE
Before leaving Formula One prematurely, Kubica had driven five full seasons in the sport with many tipped the young Pole to be a future World Champion in the making. His raw speed and ability helps him as one of the most exciting driver on the grid.
But after being out of Formula One for nearly seven years now, it will take some time for Kubica to get back to speed again. Although from the timing sheet of the mid-season test at Hungaroring, Kubica is not far from Palmer at all. Adding reports of his test with Williams have gone nicely, the Pole might not have too much of a problem getting back to the feeling of Formula One again.
And at 32 years of age, Kubica still has a decent six-seven years to race in Formula One as he still has enough time to stage an amazing comeback in the highest level of motorsport. At this age, many drivers are hitting their peak in performance as shown by drivers such as Senna, Schumacher, Prost to Hamilton and Vettel right now. Kubica will still have the speed and mentality, this fits perfectly into the criteria Williams is looking for.
Although in recent years, comeback drivers like Schumacher in his stint with Mercedes had yielded limited success. Meanwhile Kimi Raikkonen, however, yielded good results at Lotus but had limited success on his return to Maranello. This could be one of the factors Williams will avoid taking Kubica. So, can the Pole rewrite the books?
A TEAM LEADER AND A MENTOR
During his first Formula One stint, Kubica has shown to be a major player of his team. He usually performed well, at times even faster than his rivals in an inferior car and took it over its own capability during his days with BMW Sauber and Renault. With the departure of Massa, Williams desperately needs a team leader and with Kubica’s past experience; the team surely puts a lot of faith into him.
Kubica can pushes Williams further in the tight midfield battles with Force India, Renault, Haas and Toro Rosso and bring more results to the Grove team that is now slipping further away in the congested dogfight.
The departure of Massa leaves Williams scrambling for a driver that can mentor the young Lance Stroll, who is improving further into his rookie season in Formula One. The young Canadian still needs time to find the right balance and that is where Kubica jumps into place. With his immense past experience, it will pay dividends into Stroll development and his results for 2018 and beyond.
Kubica will be likely in the same situation like Massa mentoring the young Canadian sensation (Pic: Grand Prix 247)
While it seems Kubica can be a team leader and a mentor to the improving Stroll. Can he be the man that Williams hands the possibility?
Not only Kubica, there are four other drivers also in the hunt for the second Williams seat: Pascal Wehrlein, Sergey Sirotkin, Daniil Kvyat and Paul di Resta.
Pascal Wehrlein right now can be said is the Pole biggest challenger for the second seat. Wehrlein, a Mercedes’ junior driver is facing the possibility of not having a seat for next season due to the complication of the Ferrari deal with Sauber. Reports from the Hinwil camp suggested of a Ferrari partnership that could see Sauber effectively becoming a Ferrari “B” team for Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi, as well as a scheme to bring the name Alfa Romeo back to the team. Sauber’s owners also have strong ties with the young German teammate Marcus Ericsson as well.
Running out of options, Toto Wolff might need to force his hands in to keep Pascal in Formula One with Williams with discounted Mercedes engines or financial supports to the Grove team. An option to keep Wehrlein in Formula One and prepares him of a possible future Mercedes call up.
For Sergey Sirotkin, he jumps right into the picture without any warning. Williams picked Sirotkin as one of its two drivers alongside Kubica that will take part in the Pirelli end of year tires test at Abu Dhabi.
The Russian driver, who is in the Renault’s Young Drivers Academy and serving as Renault’s main test and reserve driver is a surprise addition. The Williams announcement might hint at the possibility that Renault might have dropped the Russian, largely due to the decision of getting Carlos Sainz Jr in the McLaren-Renault engine deal. Sirotkin is also a quick driver as well, having tested in a numbers of Free Practices and even at times faster than Jolyon Palmer. Sirotkin is 22 years old and can be a good investment for the Grove team as well.
Also, Sirotkin has large backings from SMP Racing and using his immense financial supports can get him the seat at Williams.
Immense backings and still 22 years old, Sirotkin may be a surprise challenger to the seat (Pic: Autosport)
Sirotkin’s Russian comrade, “The Torpedo” Daniil Kvyat is looking for a seat as well after being dropped from Toro Rosso in favor of Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley. Although it looks like Kvyat’s Formula One career is done and dusted. Paddy Lowe also hinted at Kvyat being one of the target that Williams is considering.
With his speed and youthness, and four years of experience in Formula One at just the age of 23, there are still time for “The Torpedo” to blossom to a great driver in the future. A new start, a Williams management that can trust him like Stroll, unlike Red Bull putting pressure on the young Russians that can helps him rebound. Although this is more a high risks and high rewards move, it might plays into Williams hands after all.
Scotsman Paul di Resta is also on the list as well. With the impending Mercedes departure from DTM at the end of next year, di Resta will be without a racing seat following the shock exit of the German brand. The 31 year-old already made a start this season replacing the unwell Felipe Massa at Hungary, he is also Williams’ test and reserve driver as well.
A comeback to Formula One is on the cards for the former DTM champion, but same with Kubica. History might not be on his side. Although his drive at Hungary and further testings with Williams last month might revitalize the Scots’ Formula One comeback, his limited success in Formula One might be his biggest hurdle.
2017 Hungarian Grand Prix might not be the end of di Resta's Formula One after all (Pic: Sky Sports)
With five drivers, who will it be?
It will be difficult to see if Kubica will get the seat or not. The opportunity presents to Kubica will be monumental and it is exciting to see the Pole coming back to Formula One. However, his signings will be weighing in different factors that will make or break Kubica’s comeback. But if the stars align, we are on the verge of seeing one of the most remarkable comeback in racing.
Not only Kubica, for Williams it will be a massive gamble to choose not only Kubica, but the other four drivers in the fray as well. Kubica’s future is on the hands of the Grove team, and this will set one of the most discussed story for the season to come. But right now, there are no clear answer.