Why this season has been a success for Kubica
On Thursday Robert Kubica announced that he would be leaving Williams at the end of the year, effectively ending his return to Formula 1.
When Kubica first made his Formula 1 debut in 2006, he immediately stood out as a future champion in the making, putting in regular strong performances before taking his and BMW Sauber’s only win at the Canadian Grand Prix in 2008.
He was destined for great things, and had an agreement to join Ferrari for the 2012 season, but his dream to race for the Italian giants never came to fruition as he was involved in a huge accident in the Ronde di Andora rally just weeks before the start of the 2011 F1 season.
That accident was so serious that the Pole sustained compound fractures to his right elbow, shoulder and leg, and a partially severed right forearm, making it unlikely that he would ever return to professional racing.
But Kubica is not a man to be told that he cannot do something, and after eight years of rehabilitation, and a stint competing in the WRC, he earned himself a test with Renault in 2017.
That test was the first step back into the F1 world, and despite many arguing it would almost be impossible for him to drive an F1 car at proper racing speeds, he proved that he could do exactly that.
It had been a long process for Kubica to reach that point, and it was an achievement in itself that he could ever get back behind the wheel of an F1 car, but the Pole wouldn’t stop there.
If he is competing, he wants to be the best – the same as any racing driver worth their salt – and he didn’t want to leave without at least trying to get a race seat.
Although Renault had concerns about Kubica’s speed over a full race distance, Williams decided to give him a development driver role for 2018 – after he had a shootout with Sergey Sirotkin for their final race seat – and he once again showed why he is so respected in Formula 1.
His feedback is second to none, as he provides the engineers with the detail they require in order to make positive improvements. Not only that, but he is a perfectionist and will not stop until things are right.
At a time where Williams were struggling with their car, and with two race drivers who were so inexperienced, Kubica was a real asset for the Grove team in helping them understand from a driver’s perspective where things were going wrong.
It was ultimately his technical expertise and detailed perfection that landed Kubica a race seat with the team for the 2019 season, as he partnered rookie George Russell.
Russell was always going to be the faster driver of the two, having won the Formula 2 championship in 2018, whilst also setting an out-right lap record last season at an in-season test at the Hungaroring whilst driving a Mercedes.
Questions were asked about Kubica’s ability to race, not only because of his injuries, but also because of the amount of time he had been away from F1.
But that did not deter the Pole or Williams, and in March he completed the fairytale by starting his first Grand Prix since 2010.
Unfortunately, the fairytale ended there.
Things have not gone Kubica’s way this year, having a difficult car to drive, and he has been completely out-shone by Russell, only adding to the criticism that Kubica should never have been given the Williams seat in the first place.
But has Kubica’s return been as bad as people have made out?
There is no denying that Kubica simply isn’t as fast as Russell. Russell has been at least two to three tenths of a second faster than Kubica in qualifying and on race day there is normally a large gap between the pair, as the British youngster is able to maintain a stronger pace over the course of a whole Grand Prix.
Kubica has made regular comments about struggling with the Williams and whilst he is fully capable of driving an F1 car at the required speeds, there is no doubt that his arm injuries must limit him in some capacity.
In addition, it shows that he has been away from the F1 circus for years, and whilst his approach has been exceptionally professional this year, it is also clear to see the frustration that things have not worked out as he wanted.
But whilst his return may seem like a failure, it has actually been a greater success than many people give it credit for.
He might not have the pace to match his team-mate, but that team-mate is showing all the qualities to have the potential to one day win the world championship.
If Kubica was racing alongside a different driver, then it is quite possible that the gap between Kubica and his team-mate might not be so bad, and as such it would reduce the criticism laid at his door.
Kubica has also shown that although he may not have the required skill to fight at the front of a pack like he once did, he still has an abundance of talent and is fully capable of racing in motorsport’s elite series.
Not only that, but many people in Kubica’s position would have given up after recovering from the rally accident and consigned themselves to retirement or floating around in lower disciplines, but the 34-year-old has proven what can be achieved when you put your mind to something.
Kubica hasn’t had any favours getting back to F1. He had to work like any other driver, had to find his own sponsors and had to fight for the seat against the likes of Sirotkin.
He didn’t get the seat first time round, but was there ready to strike when it became available again, and eventually landed himself back on the grid at the second time of asking.
And this is what makes his season such a success.
He has proven he can race an F1 car. He has proven he can race on any circuit, and whilst he is not as fast as he was in his previous F1 career, he is not dangerously slow and if he wasn’t fast enough, the FIA simply wouldn’t allow him on the grid in the first place.
It may not be the conventional type of success, but this season must go down as one of Kubica’s greatest years in motorsport and the lasting effect of his return will surely inspire so many others who face huge setbacks, whether that be racing related or otherwise.
Kubica was always going to struggle to retain his seat for next year given the speed difference to Russell, but it is good he has been able to walk away on his own terms, having accomplished the mission he set himself at the start – a return to Formula 1 – and for that, this year has been a great success and more than he could have hoped for eight years ago.