Robert Kubica’s stunning victory in last weekend’s Janner Rally was the perfect way to build up to what will be a challenging first season in the WRC.
The former Formula 1 star was competing in the ERC in Austria in preparation for the WRC season-opener in Monte Carlo and snatched the biggest win of his rally career with an incredible final stage effort that saw him overturn an 11.8 second deficit to win by 19.9 seconds.
"There was only one year in my career that I have not been on the podium, in 2007, so starting by being on the podium and winning the rally is always nice but we have to keep our feet on the ground," Kubica said, as quoted on Autosport. "This year will be a big challenge, participating in the WRC with the top drivers and the new rallies coming.”
Kubica’s passion for rallying almost cost him his life when he was horribly injured in a serious accident in the Ronde di Andora in February 2011. The accident almost severed his right arm and caused multiple fractures to the right-hand side of his body after a section of the Armco penetrated his car’s safety cage and sliced into his body. He came within inches of death and will almost certainly never drive an F1 car in anger again.
Before the accident, Kubica was set for F1 superstardom. Having suffered a frightening accident in Montreal whilst driving for BMW Sauber in 2007, Kubica enjoyed a stellar 2008 season.
He scored maiden victory at the Canadian Grand Prix at the venue of his horror smash en route to fourth in the drivers’ standings in a season that saw him score seven podium finishes. A tough 2009 followed before a move to Renault saw three further podiums in what was largely a disappointing season.
Of course, we’ll never know what Kubica could have achieved in F1 was it not for his accident. Or do we? After a season that saw Lotus juggle with Nick Heidfeld, Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna, Lotus became a new force under Kimi Raikkonen in 2012. Having spent two seasons away from the sport, Raikkonen finished third in the drivers’ championship with a victory and six other podium finishes.
The Lotus E20 would arguably have been the most competitive F1 car yet at Kubica’s disposal and he would have been in better shape and better practice than Raikkonen.
The fact that Kubica is still winning in rally with an impediment—he still has restricted movement of his arm and fingers—proves what a talented driver he really is.
In November, Kubica told BBC Sport that he still has dreams of racing in F1 but that it remains a distant target.
I would be able to drive an F1 car on one or two circuits for testing. But it doesn't make sense to test for a day if I cannot race. I think there is only one person who can judge what I can do behind the steering wheel - and that's myself. It's a dream, a target, but for now, it's very difficult, I would say nearly impossible. I will never take the opportunity if I don't feel 100% ready. If one day things improve, for sure we will see. For now, I am concentrating on rallying.
Will Kubica ever make it back to F1? Unlikely. Did he have the potential to be an F1 world champion? Undoubtedly.