By: Cyril Nikitenko
Standing in the main grand of the Estoril circuit in Portugal in late 2005 and being totally squeezed by enthusiastic motor racing fans who turned up en masse to watch Renault F1 Team’s demo featuring Franck Montagny and the R24 with its mighty screaming V10 engine piercing the air with loud symphony that would cure even Beethoven’s deafness, I was trying to memorize this new kid on the block, the up-and-coming Polish guy’s name, the newly crowned World Series by Renault champion. Ku-something. Kubica!
Montagny did a couple of demo runs with great panache and though it may seem strange had time to throw his gloves to the eager spectators after climbing out of the cockpit. I felt like somebody tried to steal my wallet from behind, however with more than 100,000 people tightly packed at the old Autódromo you could barely move around. I can’t share any photos of this monumental race weekend with you guys, sadly I’ve lost them. You’ll have to take my word for it that it was awesome!
Needless to say, this stuff of legends doesn’t happen very often these days. F1 demos in Portugal and large crowds at motor racing gatherings anywhere in the world, that is. It’s our own fault though; my favourite English dictionary (Oxford) came up with a perfect quote regarding what happened to F1: “This movement away from the origins of the event only reinforced its social exclusivity.” If you brand something “just for the chosen few”, the lucky paddock insiders and F1 Paddock Club glitterati, you’re gonna lose your popularity.
But back to Kubica.
The Wild One, the mad Pole, was destined to become the next F1 World Champion with Ferrari following his impressive stints at Sauber and Renault (briefly Lotus Renault GP), with BMW’s decision to concentrate on the failed politically correct “KERS and the double confuser” 2009 season early in 2008 probably costing him a good shot at the title. And who can forget Kubica’s onboards from 2010! Mind-blowing!
The fate, alas, intervened and he ended up spending six long years healing properly from his horrific injuries sustained at an obscure rally by… doing more rallies, accidentally!
Robert’s WRC career went nowhere in terms of results (minus WRC2 title in 2013), despite his pure pace being fantastic, as always. We all know how tough and technical the World Rally Championship is, with the marriage between the drive and co-driver, pace notes and many other factors defining the outcome of the rally on Sunday afternoon. Circuit drivers will remain circuit drivers I guess.
Just as WRC’s loss may become F1’s gain, F1’s loss was WRC’s gain when RK turned to rallying again to start his road to recovery.
I confess I used to belong to the legions of doubting Thomases before RK’s latest test session he had with the same F1 team that gave him his big break in the title-winning R25 twelve years ago, the phoenix-like Renault Sport F1, the reincarnation of the previous RF1 effort.
They say the test held in Valencia (hi, Tony “Hall of Fame”), which was designed mainly as a parting gift to the Pole from Renault, went so well that in fact it felt more like a “partying gift” to Renault’s engineers who never expected Kubica to perform in the first place and to do what he did with the old Lotus chassis given the limited movement in his right arm. That Renault V8 sure did sound as sweet as it did back in 2011 for Robert in the memorable forward exhausts Lotus.
Now we know Kubica will be testing again for the Anglo-French team at Paul Ricard “to assess his capabilities to return to the highest level of competition”, according to Renault team boss Cyril Abiteboul.
Robert’s story is an inspiring one; a sportsman with strong personality, drive and determination, the Pole’s possible F1 return could cost Jo Palmer his race seat, although we wouldn’t mind.
It could make for an extraordinary 2018 F1 season because Renault’s factory squad will deliver a much better overall package with its future contender.