Earlier this week, Alfa Romeo announced that Robert Kubica was joining the team as a reserve driver, a move that is starting to resemble the career of Pedro De La Rosa.
De La Rosa was never the fastest driver, and if you were to look at his Formula 1 race results, it would paint a disappointing career. The Spaniard participated in nine years of F1, but only completed four full seasons, achieving a best result of second at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix for McLaren.
But, despite the fact his race stats suggest he wasn’t the greatest of racing drivers to have graced the F1 grid, he had a hugely successful career as a test driver, becoming one of the best development drivers in the history of Formula 1.
Although he participated in races over a period of nine years, he held the role of a test driver for 12 years, for four different teams, and was pivotal in helping McLaren develop their cars from 2003 to 2009, before having another stint with them in 2011.
His technical feedback is second to none, and he is able to delve in to details that many other drivers simply can’t.
It was for this reason that McLaren kept him employed for so long, and why Ferrari came calling in 2013, as they searched for a way to provide Fernando Alonso with his third title. Unfortunately, that title never came to fruition, but it was De La Rosa’s reputation that meant the big teams would often come calling, even if it wasn’t for a desired race seat.
And, Robert Kubica has the ability to forge himself out a new F1 career in a similar manner.
There is no doubt about it, had it not been for his rally crash, Kubica would have been fighting for multiple world championships, and could even have been a champion by now. His tenacity, speed, determination and pursuit of perfection made him a stand-out driver between 2007 and 2010, and the Pole was also renowned for his technical feedback.
The difference between De La Rosa and Kubica was that, before Kubica’s accident, Kubica possessed additional speed, and was able to fight with the front-runners when the opportunities arose.
But, in 2011, Kubica famously suffered a huge rally accident that temporarily ended his F1 career. It was so bad that many never thought it was possible that he would ever be able to return to the series, but in true Kubica fashion, he proved his doubters wrong, and last year made his F1 return, eight years after his accident.
It is true, his return with Williams didn’t go to plan, but Williams always knew he would be slower than Russell, and that didn’t matter to them.
Williams has had a difficult few seasons, stuck at the back of the grid with a car that is simply running slower and slower each year, and so they needed Kubica to help them find a way through their problems.
Although Kubica was never going to out-pace the incredibly talented Russell, he possesses far greater experience and has the technical expertise to help the team understand where they are going wrong.
Before the 35-year-old got his seat at Williams, he spent a season with the Grove based squad as a development driver, and it was the way he worked that ultimately earned him the second seat for 2019.
And, although Williams hasn’t suddenly jumped through to the midfield, they have closed the gap to their rivals, and by the end of the season, they were starting to match the Haas pair of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen on race pace.
Kubica decided he didn’t want to remain at Williams for next year, unhappy at being stuck at the back of the grid, but his work ethic and technical expertise meant that as soon as he announced he was leaving, the likes of Haas, Racing Point and Alfa Romeo started courting him about a potential move to their team in the role of a development/reserve driver.
To have three teams fighting for your signature is no coincidence. They all see the Kubica’s talent, and even though he is no longer quite as fast as he once was, he still has plenty to offer a number of teams, especially those who are trying to close the gap to the top three.
Eventually, Alfa Romeo won Kubica over and the Pole has returned to Hinwil in Switzerland, to the factory and team that gave him his debut in F1 in 2006 when branded as BMW Sauber.
It is a romantic move in one way, completing the circle of joining the team that gave him his first contract in F1, but to Alfa Romeo, it is much more than that.
They now have three drivers who are excellent in technical feedback. Kimi Raikkonen has always been strong in his feedback, while Ferrari were reluctant to let Antonio Giovinazzi join Alfa when he was with them as a reserve driver, such was his technical ability, and now they have Kubica in their ranks to help in the background on a daily basis.
Alfa now have a trio of incredibly talented, technical minded drivers, and Kubica will be the man to help them forge through new development paths, as they look to close the gap to Renault and Racing Point.
It is a new chapter for Kubica, and while his F1 racing career maybe over, his testing career could just be about to take off, in much the same way as De La Rosa.