Rough ride for Robert Kubica on the road to rallying recovery

His outstanding F1 potential was halted when he nearly lost his arm in an accident but Polish driver takes part in Wales Rally GB this week with hopes of a return to the big time. Richard Rae assesses his progress

Robert Kubica's reaction to hearing that Ferrari's Formula One team principal, Stefano Domenicali, had said the Polish driver would never regain sufficient fitness to return to the pinnacle of motorsport – if that is what you believe F1 to be – was revealing.

"Maybe it sounds strange but I was actually quite pleased, because it showed they've been checking up on me," says Kubica as he prepares for this week's Wales Rally GB.

"Anyway, Domenicali didn't say anything new. He expressed an opinion, but it is an outsider's opinion and from the outside it always looks different. I know the reality, and the reality is the improvement in my range of movement is still happening."

Only when that improvement stops, says Kubica, will he rule out returning to F1, in which he looked both able and ready to compete for a world championship before the rallying accident in 2011 in which he nearly lost an arm.

He might have won the championship in 2008, the year Lewis Hamilton, then driving for McLaren, snatched the title from Ferrari's Felipe Massa on the last lap of the last grand prix.

Kubica, then just 23, was leading that championship after seven of 18 races, driving a relatively under-powered but reliable BMW Sauber with a maturity and aggressive assurance that made him as hot a property as Hamilton.

Had BMW chosen to pour resources into developing that car instead of trying (and miserably failing) to build a world-beater for the following year, the fight for the title could have been a three-way affair.

Kubica, the dry humour that made him one of F1's most popular interviewees still very much intact, smiles wryly. "There might just be something in that," he says. "But F1 is such a complicated sport. I made my feelings known but they had their priorities mapped out, and in the end you are paid to respect those priorities and drive."

Kubica finished the year fourth in the drivers' championship and BMW produced such a disastrously poor car in 2009 that the German manufacturer decided to pull out of the sport the following year. Kubica moved to Renault and, on circuits where driving ability made a real difference, continued to shine.

Then, with F1 testing for 2011 almost complete, came the incident which changed his life. Indulging his love of rallying at an event in Andorra, he put his Skoda Fabia into a crash barrier, partially severing his right hand and badly fracturing his arm and leg.

The best part of three years of operations and rehabilitation later – a process not helped when he slipped on ice the following January and broke his leg again – Kubica has reached a stage where he has regained sufficient range of movement to drive rally cars, and drive them very fast, but not a Formula One car. Not yet.

"In normal life I have big limitations in terms of movement I require for the hand," he acknowledges. "In driving terms, though, there is big progress and I'm pretty happy with how my body is reacting.

"The biggest problem is in rotating the arm when space is limited. Rally cars are pretty demanding because you can't predict, you have to be ready for instant changes of direction, but it's not a problem because I can use my shoulders.

Kubica: 'Rally cars are very demanding because you can’t predict, you have to be ready for instant changes of direction' (Getty) Kubica: 'Rally cars are very demanding because you can’t predict, you have to be ready for instant changes of direction' (Getty)
"In a narrow, single-seat racing car [where shoulder movement is confined] I can't yet put full lock on the wheel. So some F1 circuits, like Barcelona, I could drive no problem, but not somewhere like Monaco. But I think if I put it in my head to test a single-seater in two months' time, I could do it – and if I do, the results will surprise some people."

First, though, comes the Wales Rally GB, and having sewn up the Rally 2 World Championship with a fifth class win in seven events in Spain a fortnight ago, Kubica will now move up to the top class and for the first time drive Citroën's factory World Rally car.

"It's an opportunity for me, but also a huge challenge and we have to stay very calm," says Kubica. "I know that many people would like to see me go very fast in GB, but I think it will be very difficult.

"The car is new to me, and remember, eight months ago I had no experience of driving a rally car on gravel. Zero. I cannot drive on circuits for 20 years and then, after six months of regular rallying, expect to fight with the top guys in the world.

"So it will surely be impossible for me to be on pace or close enough to be in the top five or six. Otherwise with all the other drivers' experience, something must be wrong in the system! And I don't think my performance in GB will make any difference to my season, or to next year."

His plans in that respect remain open, although whatever happens in the forests of Wales this week, he would like to drive more full World Rally Championship events in 2014.

Regular sessions on Mercedes' F1 simulator having shown he has lost none of his instinctive speed or ability, however, the possibility of an F1 test is beginning to grow. While a seat back on the grid next season might remain out of the question, regular testing could see him fit and ready for 2015 – and he would not lack for suitors.

Kubica, whose following in Poland is immense, is ruling nothing out. "You never know in your life, I have learned that, and sometimes I surprise myself with what I can do. When I'm using the simulator, you wouldn't know the difference.

"Of course I miss F1 and want to get back. I made a mistake and paid a price – some would say heavy – but I would say it could have been higher, for sure.

"For me it doesn't matter if it will take one month, one year or five years, there is still a chance to drive F1, and I think it is getting better."

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain