Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ll recognise the hype train that has been chugging along, flying a Polish flag and carrying one VIP passenger, Robert Kubica. Robert’s story is well known – his debut at BMW, that heart stopping moment in Canada, his first win, the move to Renault and then, the accident that changed the course of his future.
We’ve all been watching Robert’s tentative return to Formula One closely and for anyone who follows the F1 Paddock Pass portals, you’ll know that we’re big fans of Robert. I for one have had the pleasure of working with him in the past and found him to be an incredibly gifted Formula One driver – and a terribly lovely man to boot.
Robert’s tests with Renault to ascertain his fitness to return to Formula One have been well publicised. His times were competitive, if not better than the current incumbent drivers and concerns about the dexterity of his injured arm were laid to rest. Sure, his fitness was questionable, but when you’ve been away from Formula One for seven years, one has to forgive the odd slice of pizza and glass of red on a Friday evening.
It’s been reported that Robert had signed a short term development deal with Renault in order to evaluate his chances to return to F1 and potentially, if all went well, land a drive with the Enstone outfit in 2018 or beyond. With news that Sainz is to move there in the wake of the incredibly messy (and complicated) McLaren-Honda divorce, that door is presumably closed.
Reports have suggested that Robert has sought – and had approved – a break clause in the Renault contract, meaning he can look for a seat elsewhere. Two names have come up in the past twenty four hours that have openings; Sauber and Williams.
Under the guise of BMW Sauber, the Swiss squad gave Robert his first outing in Formula One. The softly spoken but extremely dedicated young man was given his chance at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix, subbing in for Jacques Villeneuve. He out-qualified his team mate, finished in the points on debut (but was disqualified for an under-weight car) and wound up replacing Villeneuve for the remainder of the season after the French-Canadian driver threw his toys out of the pram.
Robert is well known to Sauber. In Monza I spotted him having familiar conversations with his former team, many of them still there from his time at the Swiss outfit. Naturally, they’d love to welcome back Kubica and continue their association – but is there an opportunity? Sadly, I think not.
With the Sauber-Honda deal broken down and Ferrari to power the Hinwil chassis once more, it is hotly tipped that Charles Leclerc will make the transition from F2 to the feature series, closing off one seat for Kubica. The other one is filled by Ericsson, who’s backers top up the Sauber coffers quite considerably. So unless Kubica brings suitcases full of cash with him to Sauber, I can’t see where he’d fit – unless he’d be happy as a test and reserve driver, which I’d doubt.
The other possibility, is Williams. After the shortest retirement in history, Felipe Massa has performed well this season in what has been a troublesome car. Williams have admitted they haven’t got it right this year and abandoned further heavy development sometime ago, in order to concentrate on their 2018 package. A part of that package would be a new driver, after it was revealed that Massa was brought back for a one-year deal. The fact that he’s been talking more and more about Formula E in recent weeks highlights this further so can we expect Massa to defect to the electric series?
If so, that leaves a seat open. Stroll is already signed and brings with him those before mentioned suitcases full of cash for Williams. As a part of the Martini deal, one of the drivers must be over 25 years of age to allow for sponsorship and ambassador branding, so younger drivers such as Wehrlein aren’t a possibility. So where can Williams turn?
Alonso? He’s spoken to everyone in the Paddock about leaving McLaren if they remained with Honda and is quite vocal when things aren’t going well – which isn’t really the ‘Williams way’. Plus, could Williams afford him? Doubtful. Stroll’s cash wouldn’t extend as far as to pay for Alonso as well, so with the news expected to drop this week of the McLaren -Renault deal, I think he’ll stay at Woking.
DiResta? Possible. He’s been reserve and test driver at Williams now for two years and subbed in for Massa at the Hungarian Grand Prix this year, doing an ‘unbelievable job’ according to Toto Wolff. Considering he’d never driven the FW40 before on track (he’s been a sim driver only), his qualifying performance and final placing were above expectations and he’s been vocal about his return ever since. For me, DiResta is an obvious ‘safe choice’ for Williams. But…
Robert Kubica. He’s likable, intuitive, a craftsman, a hard worker, toes the line, consistent, a brilliant racer – all the things Willams needs. Plus, he’s over 25, so that ticks the Martini box too. It would be a gamble for Williams to opt for Kubica but the spotlight would be on them in terms of PR, as the entire world would be keen to see what Kubica could do in Melbourne and beyond. I wouldn’t expect Kubica to be race-fit from day one – nor should we – but with the right package and plenty of sim time, I don’t see why Kubica couldn’t return to glory at a team such as Williams.
If there is a team that knows all about overcoming hardship and adversity, it’s Williams. It would be the most beautiful story for Kubica to be signed to Sir Frank’s incredibly dedicated team of racers.
Like many, I’d love to see Robert Kubica back in Formula One. His test with Renault showed that there is ‘no barrier’ to a return full time to the sport he so loves. And as the silly season rolls on, that opportunity is still on the table – it just needs a team to have the confidence that Robert can deliver.