The last two seasons for Robert Kubica have seen two halves. Going from a celebrated hero to an unappealing zero, his career was forced into jeopardy.
The exit of BMW left him and teammate Nick Heidfeld under a cloud of doubt. Would their careers be sustained amongst the various emerging talents within the sport after a season of turmoil?
Kubica proved more successful than his former teammate, as Renault snapped him up relatively quickly after last season.
Then there was the crash-gate controversy that put immense pressure on Renault and their future prospects. Kubica’s position on the 2010 grid was again thrust into doubt. He was left with a decision to stay with what could have been a sinking ship, or to look elsewhere with the limited availability of seats left to be taken.
With Renault’s disastrous 2009 season saved by the world-class talent of Fernando Alonso, few would have thought it a poor decision if Kubica had chosen to run from the fiasco. Yet he has remained faithful to the team amidst their acquisition by Genii Capital, and now looks ahead to the 2010 season.
So as the circus heads effortlessly around the world, will the Polish driver fare well in a season that promises to be almost as unpredictable as the previous one, with new teams included and with new rules to adhere to? Or will he continue on the depressing decline evidently begun towards the end of the 2008 season?
His Former Reputation
When 2008 began, most expected a continued dominance by Ferrari and McLaren to provide the focal point of the action. Yet BMW gladly provided a spanner in the works, as their vastly improved cars were executed beautifully by their two drivers.
While Heidfeld had looked the strongest in previous seasons, it was Kubica who came into his own. A run of consecutive points and podium finishes elevated his reputation.
This culminated with a lucky, but deserved, victory in the Canadian Grand Prix, brushing aside any concerns over the Pole after his terrific smash in the same race one year earlier.
He was the epitome of a talented driver, forcing the best pace and highest capability from the machinery beneath him. If it hadn't been for the team's ill-fated decision to begin work early on its 2009 car, the Pole may have actually halted Lewis Hamilton’s debut driver's title.
No one would have questioned this, even if his triumph in Canada could not be accompanied with further wins. A driver who was not in the strongest team could, after all, earn a great amount of respect in consistently outperforming his car and displaying the most revelatory showing of talent throughout the season.
As the season came to a climax there were already mutterings of a champion in waiting, much in the same vein that Sebastien Vettel would be considered the following year.
The Lost Treasure
The wheels on Kubica’s aspirations, though well and true, came off within 12 months. As it became clear in the first half of the 2009 season, the BMW had provided little for Kubica and Heidfeld to work with, as they struggled in attempts for possible points finishes.
A follow-up victory seemed a miracle away.
But although they improved towards the end of the season, the team's cowardly decision to quit the sport left both of their drivers' careers in tatters. For those who had supported Kubica, they were given a faltering hero who could not adapt to difficult conditions.
After racing more consistently than Heidfeld the year before, he was out-performed by his teammate more often than not on race weekends. He reflected other drivers such as Jenson Button and Jacques Villeneuve who, when on top, were flawless, but as soon as their chips were down, were on the back foot. Any driver in this predicament was deemed too vulnerable to be regarded as above the rest of the pack.
Kubica was becoming a forgotten talent. The thoughts of an impending title challenge fell as quickly as they had been brought on, and most saw his position within the sport as newly difficult. He faced the possibility of being considered as just another average driver amongst a field that featured better talents.
The New Season
As he heads into the new season and a new team, however, the Pole is afforded the opportunity of being the clear No. 1 driver. After years of having a teammate far too similar in pace and ability, he has the chance to stamp his authority in the Renault team and push their campaign ahead.
This is, of course, if he can revert back to the talented and consistent driver that we all fell for and became inspired by two years ago.
Much of this possibility might depend greatly on the capabilities of the 2010 Renault. Although, if Kubica wants us to reestablish our early optimism for him, he will need to produce a string of stunning displays that does not require the car to will him on.
He needs to be a passionate driver. "Out-performance," therefore, is the key word and one that the driver must epitomise. We know that he can do it, as we have witnessed his brilliance previously.
If a driver in decades to come wants to be considered as a sporting great, then we must see that he can be a sporting great in any team that he may drive for.
There is an element of sadness in the current feeling that Kubica may never add to the solitary victory he achieved in Canada.
With McLaren, Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull reportedly occupying the top four positions comfortably, the Pole’s main aim this year will be to regain some of the exposure that he found himself engulfed in at BMW.
Podiums and various points finishes will help him improve his credentials and could do much to gift him more promising drives in future years. If he were to find himself in a team built upon solid foundations and raw speed he could in return be afforded more realistic chances of individual glory.
Failure to accomplish much this season could definitely leave him in the abyss, as seen with Nick Heidfeld’s relegation from a first-team driver. Even those who are willing and able are not safe in the sport's current climate.
So to avoid such a consequence to another lacklustre season it is hopeful that Kubica will combat this with the determination and spirit that seemed entwined into him in the aftermath of his life-threatening accident.
With the opportunity to gradually claw himself back into the spotlight, he can reaffirm our opinions that he is a talent who we should all take note of.
So show us what you've got again, Robert Kubica, and show us why we must still wish success upon you.