Jacques Villeneuve's Formula One career was thrown into doubt last night when his Sauber-BMW team announced that their Friday driver, Robert Kubica, will take his place on the grid for this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix. Kubica, 21, will thus become the first Polish driver to compete in a grand prix.
The team's director, Dr Mario Theissen, said that Villeneuve had informed the team after his crash in last Sunday's German Grand Prix at Hockenheim that he would not be able to race in Hungary. He added: "Robert has made an outstanding impression on the team, and now we'll see how he performs in an F1 race."
Paddock rumour suggests that the team were less than impressed when Villeneuve, the 1997 world champion, collided on the opening lap in Germany with his team-mate Nick Heidfeld, delaying both cars. He nearly lost his job when the team were Sauber last year, after colliding with his team-mate Felipe Massa at Monaco.
Theissen said that he had not yet decided "who will race for us in the remaining races this season, or in 2007." The smart money has long been that Kubica will replace Villeneuve next year; now it seems it might happen sooner than that.
Kubica, who has been impressive in his Friday test role, said: "I had prepared myself for a whole year without actually competing in any races, so I am even happier to get this opportunity. And I am proud that the BMW-Sauber team have such confidence in me. I am determined not to let them down."
On Sunday, Villeneuve hit the back of Heidfeld's car, causing him damage which would ultimately end his race nine laps later. The German said: "I suddenly felt a hit on the right rear. I had to pit with a puncture and change all tyres. But the brakes were damaged, so it was too dangerous to continue."Reuse content