Robert Kubica’s horrendous injury caught many in the Formula 1 world off-guard. Not since Juan Pablo Montoya’s so-called "tennis" injury from a couple of years back has a driver been forced from the cockpit by an extra curricular activity.
I’m sure everyone has heard the disturbing details of Kubica’s injury, but don’t expect to read them here because I won’t link or write about them. When it comes to the full details of one’s medical condition, I’ve always felt that it was best to leave those with the victim and their family.
Kubica injured his hand, he’ll be out for a while, and we really don’t need to hear the paramedics or his rally co-driver talk about the gory specifics. And if you think otherwise, then I invite you to put yourself in his family’s shoes as they stroll in and out of the hospital gift shop (where Kubica rests), only to see newspapers stacked high to the ceiling detailing the worst of their son’s injuries by editors who are leveraging the drama of the situation to increase sales.
An injured driver is never easy to write about, and I do respect that this is something that needs to be done. But we also need to address the elephant in the room. When you’re in a situation like this, you need to start talking about substitutes.
With that said, there will be two Lotus-Renaults on the grid come Bahrain. Actually, if you believe Tony Fernandez, then there will actually be four. But that’s another column altogether.
It’s with the heaviest of hearts, and heaviest of keystrokes, that I examine Lotus-Renault’s best options to replace Kubica.
Nick Heidfeld: Heidfeld, is, and always will be, the unluckiest Grand Prix driver of the last 10 years or so. In the early 2000s he was destined to take the lead role at McLaren after Mika Hakkinen finally retired. He was brushed aside for some Fin named Kimi Raikkonen, and was forced to weed his way through a mix of mid-pack, and top teams (like Williams, BMW, and Jordan) who unfortunately, weren’t at the top of their game when Heidfeld was in their employ.
Forced from a race seat, he became MGP’s number three driver in 2010. Heidfeld quit that to become Pirelli’s official test driver, and then quit that to race the latter part of 2010 with BMW Sauber-Ferrari. As I noted in a past article, Heidfeld has spent a better part of the last few seasons in just about every Formula 1 car on the grid, and with almost every engine single under his right foot. His experience and most of all, his ability to adapt to unfamiliar machinery in a short period of time, would be a huge asset to the team.
Kimi Raikkonen: Speaking of Raikkonen, the man who was originally linked up to be Kubica’s teammate last fall looks likely to sub for the young polish driver—if you believe what the press says.
I don’t, because I don’t believe that Raikkonen will be back in Formula 1. Yes owners want him, but Raikkonen apparently wants to be paid as if he had just notched is second title.
He hasn’t been in a Formula 1 car for over a year, and even when he was in one the last time around he didn't seem to have the motivation to win as he did in his early days at McLaren. The only exception is Spa. If I were Renault, I would hire Raikkonen for Spa. He has a fantastic record there meaning that he will probably win, get the sponsors lots of press, and in the end Renault will only have to pay him a wage for a single race weekend.
Nico Hulkenburg: The biggest injustice of the off-season was that this young man could not land a competitive ride. Shut out of mid-pack race seats by ride buyers, and unable to get a fair shake from established teams because other driver contracts were already in place, the 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix pole sitter is has been relegated to third driver status with Force India.
Willy Webber—the same man who manages Michael Schumacher, manages Hulkenburg. As I write this, I’m sure Mr. Webber is ringing the powers-that-be at Renault to remind them of the magic that happens when a German is steering one of their engines. They need only to look to last season to see how a German-Francophone partnership bears fruit.
And if that doesn't satisfy them, then perhaps Lord Willy can throw in an old VHS tape of the Michael Schumacher’s 1995 season in the Benetton-Renault.
If it wasn't already obvious, Hulkenburg would be my pick to fill Kubica’s spot.
There are, of course, a couple of honourable mentions. Drivers who will throw their name in the ring and (hopefully) have little chance of getting the shot.
Bruno Senna comes to mind. I think he’s too inexperienced, and would be better served spending the year testing in a proper car. The problem is, with the new Lotus identity, the retro gold and black livery, many journalists would like to relive the golden Lotus age of yesteryear, when Bruno’s uncle the late, great, Ayrton Senna, raced for the team.
Happily, logic will triumph over the wet dreams of a handful of writers, and Senna should not be expected to get the drive. I’m not saying I don’t like him. I’m saying that partnering his inexperience with Vitaly Petrov’s lack of experience would be like the blind leading the blind.
I expect that before the dust settles on this debate, Jacques Villeneuve will have told anyone who will still listen that he is the best choice to replace Robert Kubica, having briefly (and unsuccessfully) raced for the team back in 2004.
But I would imagine that his argument wouldn't stop there. Villeneuve will probably remind everyone that Renault powered all of his 11 Formula 1 wins, along with his 1997 championship. And because this was back in the day when Formula 1 engines were 3 liters big, and had two more cylinders than they do now, that the transition for him would be relatively simple. Say, like going from a sport bike to a Vespa.
I realize the last part of my argument was a little facetious, but if it put a smile on your face in what is a rather dreary topic, than I’m happy to say that it did its job.
And if that doesn't bring a smile to your face, then perhaps this will. As I write this, it appears that Kubica's recovery is off to a promising start.
Bravo, Robert. Hope to see you before the season ends.
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