MONZA, ITALY // Robert Kubica, Renault's Polish driver, will edge closer to a Formula One comeback next month when he gets behind the wheel for the first time since suffering major fractures in a rally accident seven months ago.
Kubica, 26, recently underwent another operation on his right elbow and, having come through successfully, is now aiming to escalate his return to motorsport's top tier as soon as possible.
Daniele Morelli, Kubica's manager, has watched all but one race of this year's world championship by his client's side and yesterday said on the sidelines of the Italian Grand Prix that Kubica would pull on a helmet in October "to give a message on what he can do".
"It's important that he can start to drive," Morelli said. "Whether it's in a simulator or in a road car is not important. Robert has started the final part of his recovery and this is a very important step. The next day, he could right away move his elbow with almost normal movement. We still need nature to do its work, but we do not have a concrete obstacle now. It is a matter of time."
Morelli added that while Kubica's contract with Renault has expired, the team have "given us assurances that there is a seat" available for him.
Another driver who has few contract worries is Jenson Button, who it was confirmed will race for McLaren-Mercedes again in 2012. Martin Whitmarsh, the Woking-based marque's team principal, said he could "guarantee that he will be us next year".
"We both want to work together for a long period of time. It's a non-issue," said Whitmarsh, who added that the contract of the British driver, 31, would not be for a single season.
"We're just talking about it [at the moment, but] I don't think there's any rush to go to a single-year contract.
"Jenson's done some of the most spectacular drives in the history of Formula One this year. And I think he's capable of even more."
Lewis Hamilton posted the fastest lap of the day in yesterday's morning practice session at Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, almost a second ahead of McLaren teammate Button in second, but Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing topped the afternoon's time sheets after Hamilton found himself embroiled in traffic.
"It's a track that traditionally doesn't suit us, but we were happy with the car," Vettel said. "McLaren look very quick in particular and the ones to beat."
Michael Schumacher, the 42-year-old Mercedes-GP driver, finished third fastest in the afternoon, but was remaining grounded.
"It's always a special feeling to be here in Monza," said Schumacher, who has been mobbed by fans this weekend courtesy of his illustrious career with the Italian manufacturers Ferrari. "It certainly looks good in terms of my position and I'm pleased with that, but we will only find out [in qualifying] what it's really worth."