After months of speculation, Robert Kubica has announced he is unlikely be ready for the start of the 2012 season.
“Even if I've been working very, very hard over the course of the last few weeks, I came to the conclusion that I am not yet certain to be ready for the 2012 season. I have called the team and I have informed them of the situation,” he said.
The Pole's statement will come as a disappointment to fans hoping for a more concrete answer to whether he will drive next year. As with most of the reports on his progress we've received over the last few months, this one was vague and difficult to read into.
It was, however, interesting to read Lotus-Renault's accompanying statement, which appeared to rule Kubica out of the opening race of the season altogether.
“Everybody in the team is, of course, very disappointed today. Robert not driving in Australia at the start of next season is not what we were all hoping for."
It would appear they know something we don't. Kubica's manager, Daniele Morelli, questioned the wording of Renault's comments.
"I don't understand why Renault has changed Robert's words. It's not true he won't be ready for 2012. He stated he doesn't have certainty that he will be in shape for the first tests in February."
Morelli continued and dropped in a little more confusion of his own, by adding that Kubica's contract with Lotus-Renault does not extend into 2012.
"His contract does not extend into 2012. It ends at the end of December, so from January 1 we will be free to go in whatever direction."
Most in the paddock thought it did cover 2012 as well, including Lotus-Renault. It was widely reported in 2010 that an extension had been signed, and an accompanying press release was issued.
I can only speculate, but it sounds like Morelli could be referring to a team-performance-related release clause, which I imagine Kubica's contract would have contained, and which Renault may have failed to meet.
But that's just speculation. It'd be safer to assume the 2012 contract will stand, regardless of what clauses exist and irrespective of what Morelli says, because there just isn't anywhere else for Kubica to go right now.
So what does all this mean for the team and driver?
First of all, it looks like Lotus-Renault have decided they need to push on and lay concrete plans for 2012, and can no longer afford to wallow in uncertainty.
However, uncertainty is exactly what they'll continue to wallow in. They'll remain hamstrung by the shadow of Kubica, especially when sorting out their driver lineup.
Whoever they choose as their second driver (alongside Vitaly Petrov) will be signing on the clear understanding that they can and will be removed from the race seat at any time to allow Kubica to return.
So rather than looking for an established or sought-after driver, they'll have to go with a drinker in the last-chance saloon—a man who'll take what he can get, even if his race seat will be insecure.
Romain Grosjean looks the favourite, but Bruno Senna will be shaking a lot of hands at his home race this coming weekend, hoping to secure some lucrative sponsorships to tip the balance in his favour.
And that means that unless Petrov suddenly morphs into a 1996-spec Michael Schumacher, Renault will start the season with one of the weakest driver lineup on the grid. Probably the weakest.
For Kubica, it actually adds a greater degree of uncertainty about his future.
His contract ends after the 2012 season, and there are two very desirable race seats which may well be opening up at that time—Felipe Massa's at Ferrari and Mark Webber's at Red Bull.
But if he wants a midseason return for Lotus-Renault, they may well demand he commits to drive for them in 2013 as well. No team wants to assist in the recovery of a driver, ease him back into racing, then have him leave straight away for pastures new.
They'll want at least a whole season out of him.
So if he does fully recover, a major decision may have to be made. Take the chance of a faster return at the expense of missing out on a golden opportunity, or sit out the entire 2012 season and pray that the golden opportunity is still available at the end.
Unless he's ready for the start of the season after all, in which case everything changes again.
Whichever way it goes, it will at the very least provide one story for fans to discuss and speculate on throughout the barren, race-free winter.