Mat Coch writes:
There is no Formula One return on the cards for Robert Kubica, at least not any time soon. Injured in a rally crash prior to the 2011 season the popular Pole has recently begun reacquainting himself with the motorsport world, ironically enjoying success at the wheel of a rally car.
One of the brightest talents in Formula One, Kubica's accident came as a stark reminder that, even with advancements in safety, the sport remains dangerous. Initially it was hoped the 28-year-old would return to Formula One quickly, perhaps by mid-season, however those predictions soon proved overly optimistic.
"If I can move my arm again, there is a chance that I will return," Kubica revealed in an interview with Autoweek. "But until that happens, we'll have to see. There's no chance of me coming back to Formula One soon."
In September (2012) the former BMW and Renault driver made a return to rallying, winning the Ronde Gomitolo di Lana in Italy. It was an event which helped rekindled his passion for the sport after months spent testing.
"I miss it more now than I used to, say a year ago," he confessed. "Then I was very ill, the operations were coming one after another, and I was more concerned about how to bounce back and recover. Formula One was the last thing on my thoughts. But when I got back behind the wheel (of a rally car) last year and realized that my speed remains the same; that's when it all started. Now I find it quite hard to watch F1 on TV.
"I'm probably not as optimistic as most people think," he admitted. "It's difficult to explain. I don't want to delve into what happened, to think about what I went through and so on. We have to live with what we have; we don't have a choice. When you're in hospital and meet people who have no chance at all, you start to see life differently. Often, we don't appreciate what we have. When you're in a hospital bed and cannot get up, even the simplest things bring you happiness. So you start to appreciate and enjoy everything you have. Even if it's not what you dreamed of.
"I miss racing. This is my biggest problem. When I'm busy rallying or testing, I'm not thinking about it. But when I'm at home on a Sunday evening after a Formula One race, I think I'm living a boring and monotonous life. On the other hand, you cannot get everything you desire out of life. I'm happy about where I am today. I need to keep working, keep fighting. I'm getting better, but you need a lot of time to fully recover from something like this."
Kubica's biggest hurdle in making a Formula One return is physical rather than mental, his right arm restricting movement enough to prohibit him driving a single seater. While capable of driving a 'saloon car' he does not have the finesse needed to operate a Formula One steering wheel.
"If it was just about power, it could be fixed by some training at the gym," he explained. "The main problem is the mobility of my elbow and wrist. I still find it difficult to move my right arm. I had several operations that were meant to improve this issue, but there's not been a spectacular improvement.
"I would say that I'm more constrained in daily life than when driving a car," he continued. "I had to learn to use my left hand to operate all the switches and buttons on the dashboard. My right hand is now strong enough to hold the steering wheel. Movement is still somewhat limited, but it's enough. So I'm happy with how my body has adapted to it - and I even found my own way to go through a corner. It's incredible how the human brain and body can adapt themselves to different circumstances.
"I never imagined I wouldn't return (to Formula One). I was hoping that I'd be back behind the wheel of a Formula One car soon, but it didn't work out. To return at the highest level you need to constantly train, you need a lot of time behind the wheel. Now I'm doing this and in the last three months my performances have improved a lot; I hope this continues."
It leaves the former Grand Prix winner at a crossroad. While he still has a desire to race at the highest level it appears that Formula One is, for now at least, out of the question. It means a change of direction in whatever he does next.
"I will make a decision very soon," he said when asked about his future. "My name still means something, so it would be relatively easy to find a place in touring cars or endurance racing, I think. If I go down that road, I can expect some good results: I've got 20 years of circuit racing experience behind me to fall back on. If I choose rallying, it's going to be a different story. In terms of experience, I'm practically nobody. I'll need two or three years to learn to get to the highest level.
"If I really go for rallying, the 2013 season will be all about learning, with no other goal than to drive as much as possible and gain experience. If I'm in the World Rally Championship next year, I'm not expecting to fight for top results. We're talking with people at the moment, and everything will be decided by the end of the year.