x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Robert Kubica is doing the right things

He spent much of last season at the back of the field with BMW, but now he has a near-perfect fit with Renault.

Robert Kubica has made few errors this season, something the title contenders cannot brag about.
Robert Kubica has made few errors this season, something the title contenders cannot brag about.

Speed? It is a given. Consistency? Less so.

Formula One success demands both, but the topsy-turvy nature of this year's world championship illustrates that one is slightly easier to achieve than the other.

Of the five drivers who have dominated the season, none has been immune to error - and that has been a factor in the most open campaign for years. When the dust settles after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 14, it will be difficult to nominate the season's outstanding driver, irrespective of the title's ultimate destiny.

One candidate, though, is less obvious than most.

Robert Kubica, the Renault driver, has done little wrong since making his F1 debut with BMW in 2006.

Promoted from a reserve role in mid-season, to replace Jacques Villeneuve, the former champion, he finished on the podium in only his third race at the Italian Grand Prix and subsequent progress has been tempered only by the equipment at his disposal.

Lewis Hamilton has always maintained that Kubica was the toughest adversary he faced on motorsport's nursery slopes and most of his rivals rate him highly, but Kubica is not quite sure where he fits in F1's hierarchy. "I've never really thought about it and don't like to judge such things," he said.

"I'm very happy if other people are complimentary, but I'm simply trying to extract the best from myself at all times."

The 25-year-old's career curve has been more awkward than most. Born in Krakow, Poland, a country with little motor racing heritage (and no previous F1 representation), he moved to Italy during his teens, to integrate himself with the sport, and lives there still.

He switched from karts to cars in 2001, became a consistent front-runner in the junior categories and won the 2005 World Series by Renault title, at which point BMW came calling.

The German company had a very regimented approach to racing - and when Kubica won the 2008 Canadian GP (a maiden F1 success for both parties) the consequences were peculiar.

The victory temporarily elevated Kubica to the top of the championship standings, but BMW's target that year had been to win races, rather than titles, and chassis development suddenly stopped.

Does he think he could have taken the title?

"Yes - and I'm sure many people in the team felt the same way as me," Kubica said with a smile. "We had new parts ready in the factory to give us extra performance, but they were held back until the following season.

"I think challenging for the title was a bit outside the team's programme at that stage. I'm not saying I would have won it, but we could definitely have given it more of a go."

Despite development on the car coming to a halt, Kubica remained in contention for the 2008 title until the penultimate race, before he finally fell away and was forced to watch on as his friend Hamilton became the youngest champion in the sport.

In the management's mind the championship was a job for 2009, but the next-generation BMW was borderline hopeless and Kubica spent much of the year towards the back of the field, although he finished second in Brazil after the team introduced a major chassis upgrade towards the season's end.

In the circumstances, it was not a major surprise when BMW announced it was withdrawing from F1 and Kubica was left to scout for fresh employment.

Renault swiftly embraced him and he has been a natural fit within a lean, reactive racing team that lacks much of his former employer's corporate baggage.

The engineers appreciate his undiluted zest for driving, something that extends to his leisure time. The F1 calendar might be expanding, but between races Kubica competes in as many rallies as he can, simply because he likes it.

Immediately after the race next week at Yas Marina Circuit, he will head to France to take part in the Rallye du Var, a prestigious round of the country's national championship."I hope I'll be around in F1 for quite a few years yet," he said, "but when that stops I'd like to indulge my passion for rallying - just for fun, in the same spirit that I approach it now."

First, though, he has the task of trying to help Renault return to the heights that earned them back-to-back titles with Fernando Alonso, in 2005 and 2006.

"Every team has a different culture," he said. "They all have their strong points, but the atmosphere at Renault differs from what I was used to before.

"I'm having more fun and that makes everything easier. I've no idea when we'll be ready to win again. It might not happen, although obviously I hope it does.

"Everyone is committed to reaching the top, but the road ahead is long and winding. If we get there, great. If we don't, it's not a problem so long as I know I've given it my best shot."

Kubica could hardly be accused of doing anything else as he is seventh in this year's championship on 124 points, the best driver not in a Red Bull-Renault, Ferrari or McLaren-Mercedes.

The Renault R30 is probably the fifth-fastest car this year, but he has flattered it with three podium finishes (and by qualifying in the top three at Monaco, Spa and Suzuka, traditional circuits that allow relatively little margin for error).

"I demand a lot from myself," he said, "but I'm happy with my performances this season. If, one day, I have the chance of fighting for the title, I hope the experiences I'm getting now will make me ready for the challenge.

"In the past I have achieved better results, but I don't think I was driving as well as I am now."

And that consistency? He made his only error of note during the Belgian Grand Prix, where he overshot his pit when coming in to switch from dry tyres to wets, largely because he was simultaneously adjusting some electronic settings on his steering wheel.

It cost him one position and three points - and not many can claim to have frittered so little this year.

 

sports@thenational.ae