Exclusive Kubica Q&A : The title? Anything is possible 16 Oct 2008
With McLarens Lewis Hamilton and Ferraris Felipe Massa both losing their cool at the Japanese Grand Prix, a surprise contender for the title has emerged ahead of this weekends China race. And BMW Saubers Robert Kubica is well aware that with just 12 points separating him from standings leader Hamilton, a window of opportunity has opened up. But the question is, can his car live up to his ambitions
Q: Robert, looking at the results of the last two races, the top podium spots were occupied by drivers with slower cars than the title contenders. Could you spring a surprise in terms of the title?
Robert Kubica: The last two races, or even the last three races with Monza, the top spots were occupied by drivers that you would not have expected to win under normal conditions. Vettel was very strong in Monza in wet conditions, but no one expected him to win under dry conditions. And in Singapore there was the safety-car phase, which created a lot of disadvantages for some drivers. I lost a lot of points because of Nelson Piquet's mistake. For Fernando Alonso it was quite a lucky moment as he managed to do a good race and was able to win. In Japan, I finished second, even though we were not even the third power on the grid, as we had been slower than Renault and Toyota. We managed a very good race, with some luck in the first corner. Maybe it was not just luck, as you have to take your chances when they arise and stay calm. This was good for me, as it opened some good possibilities - and I kept my feet on the ground. The last three races showed that anything can happen, and we keep on pushing and trying. We do not have a lot of time to improve, as we do not really have any new parts on the car.
Q: Looking at previous years, often its not the fastest car/driver combination that wins the title, but the one with the least mistakes
RK: Our consistency and reliability is what's keeping us in the battle for the championship. From my point of view I have driven very consistent races and had very good pace, with only a few mistakes. True, at a few races we have been unlucky, like in Singapore, which cost me a lot of points. That was a shame, because the only way I can fight for the championship - as we dont have the fastest car - is consistency and reliability. And due to these two factors we are still in the game. But I think that the two drivers in front are in a much better situation - standings-wise and pace-wise as well. So I still think the battle will be between a Ferrari and a McLaren driver, but I am there and should another chance loom I am there to grab it.
Q: What if the performance of the car had not had a lacklustre phase in the middle of the season?
RK: We were leading the championship standings after seven races because we had good pace and because of consistent driving and team work. In the later phase of the championship we dropped off a bit in pace compared to Ferrari and McLaren. Additionally Toro Rosso and Toyota came out with stronger development and that didn't help us. In Fuji, in normal conditions, we would have been slower than Renault and Toyota - and that doesn't make life easier to compete against Ferrari and McLaren. So lets hope that for these last two races we will find we are stronger than Renault and Toyota. We have to try, as trying doesn't cost. You never know if over the next five years or so I will get the chance of being the leader of the championship after seven races again.
Q: You urged the team to develop faster and sat down with BMW Motorsport director Mario Theissen in Monza to sort out the situation
RK: We agreed that we haven't developed in the way we were expected to. Our development parts were not delivering the results we had hoped and additionally the car was not improving. It is not a secret that for a couple of months our car was standing still and not getting quicker - that's why the title battle is getting tougher and tougher for me. And if Ferrari and McLaren - teams and drivers - had not made so many mistakes I would be in the back a long time ago. But you have to be good in some areas - like in consistency and reliability - which we definitely are. But if we could have managed to be two-tenths quicker I would have won in Fuji and the standings would be significantly different. But if never won you anything, so we should be happy with what we have achieved. But of course as I am very ambitious and always throw in a one hundred percent performance, there is always the notion that we could have done better.
Q: Are you surprised by how many times the title contenders have lost their cool?
RK: Not really. Because when you are in the car you have a damned short time to decide. Last year we saw a complete turnaround of the championship, as nobody would have ever guessed that McLaren could lose the drivers' championship, but they did. Kimi (Raikkonen) won because in the last phase of the championship he was driving really well, but he was also helped by human mistakes. We have seen at the first corner in Fuji what can happen if the battle heats up. I think that Lewis was leading after corner one but then he had a small contact with Alonso which catapulted him far behind. And Felipe was trying to defend and what happened I think was good for the show - and for me! I am sure both Felipe and Lewis would love to have the championship already in their pocket, but let's have fun.
Q: Its said that a championship contender cannot afford more than one mistake a season
RK: Well I would say this championship is quite special. The average points per race, per driver, are very low, which shows that a lot of things have been going on. A lot of difficult situations have occurred, for example the technical problems of Ferrari, mistakes by different drivers, a lot of safety-car phases at difficult moments where a few drivers benefited and others lost a lot of points. This has been quite a strange season where we have had to use our opportunities, and let's hope in Brazil we still have a chance to win the title.
Q: What about this weekend's race? Last year you made it to P8 in qualifying and dropped out in the race due to hydraulic problems. But that was with a distinctively inferior car
RK: Well, last year I had to retire while I was leading the race, which was not a great moment in my career. Last years conditions were different, as I think we are expecting sunny conditions, but you never know. At the last couple of races rain was expected and, as we know, changeable weather situations can mix up the result dramatically and possibly help me. And we have seen in Monza that important points can be taken by drivers that are further away in the battle for the drivers championship. If I want to achieve something I will have to finish second in the last two races, which wont be very easy.
Q: You had problems with tyre graining in Japan, at least at the beginning of the race. Is this a worry for you here in Shanghai?
RK: Well, the graining problem was really due to the high pace in Japan, together with the lack of grip. Normally graining comes when the car is sliding and you don't have a lot of grip. I was leading the race and I was driving at the maximum, and the tendency is that the faster you go the more problems you face. Cars that are well balanced and have good grip have less problems with their tyres, they overheat less and grain less. In addition, the temperature did not help us, as Friday was the hottest day and we did not have problems. But on Saturday in qualifying I saw some problems with the tyres after only one lap. For the race I did expect some problems, and in fact there were some, but it was not the case that without the graining I would have won the race. I think the graining was a consequence of our grip level problem in Fuji.
Q: Should you end the season third, how would you feel?
RK: Of course finishing in the top three of the championship would be very, very good for myself - but on the other hand it is also true that to be second, youre the first loser! In the end, I think we have to stay realistic and be satisfied with what we've got. The first goal for the last two races is to keep Kimi behind, but it is also true that until the chequered flag in Brazil everything is possible!