I still remember where I was when I read the first reports. I remember sending a text to Eric Boullier. I remember his response. And how it left me cold.
There will be many who don’t recall the day. Many of our younger fans won’t even recall watching him race. Actually, either I’m getting old or time is moving faster, but those younger fans might not even be so young anymore. Teenagers now.
It is seven, goodness, nearly eight years since Robert Kubica, one of the most promising, gifted and revered drivers of his generation was involved in an accident in the Ronde di Andorra rally. A piece of Armco barrier had pierced the front of his Skoda Fabia and scythed through the car, the resultant damage done to the Pole’s right hand and arm proving so severe that he was given no chance of realistically ever driving anything again. Let alone a Formula 1 car.
And yet here we are. Robert Kubica will return to an F1 cockpit full-time in 2019. As race driver. For Williams.
It really is quite the incredible story. This, lest we forget, is the racer that was at one time held up as one of the most naturally gifted on earth. Way before the Vettels and the Ricciardos had arrived on the lips of the F1 fraternity, before the Leclercs, the Gaslys and the Verstappens had even stepped into a kart, this was the man spoken of as a multiple Formula 1 world champion.
His promise in karts and throughout junior formula led to his perception within the world of open wheel racing as a talent for the ages. Respected and feared by those who would come to write the records of our time, both Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton regarded him as one of the greatest competitors they ever faced.
His destiny was written. He’d topped the early testing times in 2011 for Lotus. Had fate not been so cruel he’d surely have won races that year. He was, we now know, to race for Ferrari, alongside Alonso his great friend and rival, in 2012. His career was mapped out. His ascent assured.
Respected and feared by those who would come to write the records of our time, both Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton regarded him as one of the greatest competitors they ever faced
It’s the bitter yet beautiful irony of this whole story. That same drive and determination, that pure passion of his pursuit that made him such a potent force, ultimately robbed him of his birth rite.
And yet in every year since his accident, those whispers remained. He was getting feeling back in his arm and his hand. He was gaining better movement. He’d tested this. He’d tested there. He was quick.
And then a run for Renault. The team left impressed and in awe. Signed up, evaluated. But not quite there.
And so to Williams. Further tests. Yet more development. And as time went on, a discussion that switched from a focus on his limitations to that of his ability once again.
The whispers became a murmur. The murmur a shout. And from it all an exclamation that Robert Kubica would return. It was just a matter of when.
ROBERT KUBICA: His incredible story
Promises of test runs and simulator roles would be turned down. Because Robert Kubica exists to race. And so now he will once again.
The question of how fast he remains can wait. Frankly a Robert Kubica at even 75 percent of the level of the Robert Kubica of old would be a tough prospect to beat. But the stopwatch need only start in Melbourne. And it will not lie.
But for now, it’s really not about that. It’s about Robert. It’s about Williams; a team whose competitive foundations were forged on the bricks that were some of the ballsiest and baddest bastards this sport’s ever known.
That Robert’s return should come with that team, with that history, placing his name alongside their legacies, could not be more perfect. That he should race for Sir Frank Williams, who with every passing day defied his own odds, makes this story so much more.
This is a story of human endeavour, of human determination and of a human spirit so unquenchable that it has defied the seemingly insurmountable.
This is a story of human endeavour, of human determination and of a human spirit so unquenchable that it has defied the seemingly insurmountable
There’s an oft-used phrase in situations like this that “even Hollywood couldn’t have written this script.” It could, of course. But like some of Hollywood’s greater flights of fancy, I’m not sure anyone would have found this particular story all that believable. It’s just too big. There’s too much in it to make it real.
The story was so perfect, the heartbreak so vast, as to make it all so utterly unbelievable.
Not to mention it would have taken some imagination to come up with a character like Robert.
But he exists. And he exists to race.
Once you’ve met him, you’ll never believe anything is impossible again.
Kubica tells his story on the official F1 podcast, Beyond the Grid
Robert Kubica: “I wanted to improve as a driver… but I paid too high a price”