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Robert Kubica - what a difference a year makes 07 Aug 2007

Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, 4 August 2007 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.07 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, 5 August 2007 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.07.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, 4 August 2007 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.07 Formula One Testing, Day Three, Jerez, Spain, 26th July 2007. World © Patching/Sutton Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1 on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, 5 August 2007

At the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix, BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica made history by becoming the first Polish driver to compete in a Formula One race. Last weekend, Kubica returned to the scene of his debut as an established driver with 15 race starts to his credit.

When he crossed the line in seventh place 12 months ago, there were plenty of raised eyebrows at the Hungaroring. On Sunday, however, few were surprised at his fifth place finish - proving just what a strong reputation he has built for himself in just one season.

As debuts go, Kubica’s maiden outing in Budapest in 2006 was greeted with relatively little hype. Drafted in to replace injured former champion Jacques Villeneuve, Kubica was largely unknown outside the paddock. Yes, he had enjoyed some impressive practice sessions as the team’s third driver, but with Villeneuve expected back in the BMW Sauber cockpit soon, Kubica’s arrival warranted little attention.

Once on track, however, his natural speed and raw talent made an instant impression. Undaunted by his premature promotion into a world champion’s seat, Kubica qualified tenth and finished his first race in the points. Although he was eventually disqualified from his seventh place for an underweight car, his debut performance was astounding nonetheless.

When Villeneuve opted not to return, BMW Sauber didn’t hesitate in signing up Kubica for the rest of the season; and just two races after his Hungarian disappointment, he found himself on the Monza podium after finishing third in Italy. Capably matching experienced team mate Nick Heidfeld for the rest of the season, Kubica had more than lived up to his early promise and at the season’s close, was just one point shy of Villeneuve’s tally of seven world championship points.

After being retained for 2007 by the German-Swiss team, Kubica has quietly continued to impress, though with debutant Lewis Hamilton stealing the limelight and a resurgent team mate to contend with, it has not been easy for the Pole. Heidfeld’s renaissance has been a cause for concern for Kubica, who has found himself consistently out-qualified and out-raced by the German. His consolation, however, is the fact that his own strong performances have forced Heidfeld to raise his game.

But Heidfeld’s form has not been Kubica’s only challenge - he has been forced to show his mettle in other regards. At June’s Canadian Grand Prix he was involved in one of the most serious and dramatic accidents seen in Formula One racing for quite some time. With little more than his car’s monocoque intact after the collision, Kubica was hospitalized with concussion and was advised to skip the following weekend’s race at Indianapolis.

The accident, however, did not mark the end of the fairytale. In fact, after shrugging off what would have shaken many, Kubica seems to have emerged even stronger from his Montreal adventure. He has since enjoyed four strong finishes, including fourth places in France and Britain. Eleven rounds into his first full Formula One season and he has already accrued 28 points.

No wonder then that Kubica remains widely regarded as a future race winner - if not world champion - by his peers and pundits alike. His determination to succeed remains undiminished and, though he is the first to admit that he has had his ups and down, he has learnt a lot of valuable lessons over the past 12 months.

“Of course, there were good moments but also bad moments as in life as a whole and all drivers had good memories and bad feelings,” he said in Hungary. “But we are concentrating on the future. At every Grand Prix, every day you have a new experience, which you have to use in the future.”

Formula One racing’s annals are littered with stories of young drivers unable to fulfill their early promise. However, those in the know believe Kubica won’t be one of them. Yes, he has plenty left to prove, but just one year into his Grand Prix career and he has already achieved more than many manage in a lifetime. More importantly, aged just 22, he still has plenty more time in which to deliver.