George Russell, Robert Kubica, Williams, Albert Park, 2019

“The cars are identical”: Williams suspects tyres explain Kubica’s deficit to Russell

2019 team mate battles: Kubica vs Russell

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In a special series running throughout this week we take an in-depth look at the performance between each of the 10 pairs of team mates on the F1 grid so far this year.

If goodwill equalled lap time, Robert Kubica’s rivals wouldn’t stand a chance. It would be a stony heart that begrudged the Williams driver anything less than a successful comeback after the cruel way his promising F1 career was cut short eight years ago.

But the stopwatch is a brutal judge and its pitiless verdict on Kubica is that he is falling far short of his rookie team mate George Russell. The numbers below make painful reading, and they show little sign of improving. Kubica’s 1.293-second deficit to Russell in Hungary was enormous, the second-largest of the year after Melbourne, where the team were struggling with a parts shortage.

While Kubica’s injuries have forced alterations to his driving style, neither he nor the team are blaming that for his deficit to Russell. Senior race engineer Dave Robson believes Russell’s greater familiarity with the Pirelli rubber has helped him.

“I suspect it will come down to the tyres,” said Robson after qualifying in Hungary. “When the gaps are that big, the cars are identical, I suspect that’s what it will come down to.”

The yawning gap between the two has prompted some of Kubica’s fans to insist Williams mustn’t be giving the two equal equipment. It’s a claim deputy team principal Claire Williams has strongly denied.

In fact on one occasion when the team didn’t give its drivers the same specification cars, Kubica was arguably the one to benefit. He was the first of the two to run Williams’ German Grand Prix upgrade; Russell didn’t get it until Saturday in Hockenheim.

In other respects Williams is going the extra mile to treat its drivers equally. Unlike in previous seasons, is dividing its third driver’s free practice running between both of its cars instead of just one.

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“It’s a two-car game” Robson pointed out. “We’ve got to go away and understand that [problem] with Robert and see whether we can improve it in a couple of weeks’ time.”

George Russell, Williams, Hungaroring, 2019
Russell raced in the midfield in Hungary
Kubica had the chance to adjust to Pirelli’s tyres beginning with his return to an F1 car in 2017. But Russell’s ascent through the GP3 and F2 ranks gave him more regular practice on the rubber while also deprived of many of the more advanced measurements F1 teams can perform, forcing him to develop his own feel for the rubber. Robson suspects this may be making the difference.

“The driver is the best sensor on the car in effect. Forget about all the electronics, he’s the single most important bit on there.”

There is much lap time to be found in mastering the art of the preparation lap. Robson suspects Russell may be able to “really feel not so much what the tyre is doing right now but what it’s going to do when he starts the timed lap – that’s the other difficult bit.”

“Maybe Robert does have a little bit more to understand about how you get the most out of it,” he added. “Undoubtedly these tyres are very different from the ones I remember with Bridgestone and Michelin. They’re not worse, necessarily, just different. You do have to treat them in a different way and understanding them is not easy.”

The sole bright spot in Kubica’s season so far is the point he scored in Germany. This was a product of experience and restraint: He had been running behind Russell when his team mate went off in the slippery conditions.

It must be galling for Russell to have missed out on that chance, particularly as he’d lobbied Williams to adopt a slick tyre gamble which paid off handsomely for his rivals. It may well guarantee that the championship order of the Williams drivers at the end of the season does not reflect the pecking order.

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Kubica vs Russell: Key stats

Kubica vs Russell: Who finished ahead at each round

George RussellQ
Robert KubicaQ

Kubica vs Russell: Qualifying gap

Times based on the last qualifying round at each race weekend in which both drivers set a time

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2019 F1 season

Browse all 2019 F1 season articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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40 comments on ““The cars are identical”: Williams suspects tyres explain Kubica’s deficit to Russell”

  1. RK talked between words about parts quality, he complained on front wing which was damaged in last two Q.
    His pace in Hungary was pretty similar, but he got many more blue flags in opposite to GR so this is why he ended with
    Anyway GR is very good driver with long term contract so I’m not surprised he is a priority for Williams and RK is just a benchmark for him;)

    1. I have the utmost respect for RK, coming back after such an horrendous accident is a major achievement, but both Williams and GR have said the cars are the same and they have no need to supply sub quality parts to either driver or favour one over the other when they are trying to claw their way back from what is the lowest point in their history when getting the max out of both cars and drivers is critical to their long term future …. it could just be that RK’s injury is more of a problem than he is willing to admit publicly.

        Cars wasn’t identical back then so what makes you think that they identical now?
        If you look closely to some of the Russell/Kubica onboards you will see that Russell can exit corners on 4th gear with full throttle when Kubica on 6th gear had wheel spinning… At least that was before Silverstone. I don’t know how about now- there were some upgrades. Ah, and Kubica told us he would be faster than Russell in Silverstone and Hockenheim in qualy but he had broken front wing. So… you see that Williams don’t even have the spare parts?

        1. Talk about conspiracy theory…

          1. My conspiracy theory is that all the defenders of Kubica have a very suspicious lack of understanding of how to use English articles (“the”, “a”), which happens to be very characteristic of the lovely people of a certain European country ;)

            Having said that, here’s hoping that Kubica fixes whatever the problem might be and closes the gap soon.

  2. Unfortunately for Kubica I think he has missed the boat. To long out of the game and now a little to old to give him the time to get his skills back up to speed. Also he’s next to a bloke who is a class act and is definitely a potential WDC. Williams lack lustre first half hasn’t helped either of them, if anything it may have masked the difference between them a little.

    1. @johnrkh I agree with you. Anyone who comes back after such a long time away from F1 specific and less specific motorsport in general would struggle. On top of that Russell seems very talented. Don’t forget how Schumacher fared after ‘just’ three years of absence and he was one of the most talented drivers in F1 ever.

      1. Sch depended on massive testing. That had gone.

        1. That was the same for every team and driver. The work ethics of schummi were a class on their own.

          1. That is true, but that would not have had that much of a difference if he hadn’t basically had Ferrari, who was comfortably outspending everybody back then and even had their own track right in their backyard, which not even McLaren had. Schumacher’s work ethic was unparalleled by anyone of his era, but he had the backing and was given the resources to do so, which lots of drivers never got.

        2. The cars had changed massively between when he retired and when he made his comeback. Both the 2009 reg changes plus the narrower tyres introduced for his 2010 comeback year.

          The same could be said for Kubica, but the time differential to GR is too big for it to be that alone.

    2. Kubica doesn’t understand the tires, can’t cope with the car settings and speaks little English. That’s why Claire pointed out not long ago that they took him into the team mainly for technical reasons, and that Robert himself could have been an excellent technical director…. Oh, well, that’s cool.
      Robert is a tyre specialist, so much so that even Merca pulled him out of the cesspools….oh wait I forget about Mario Idola what he said about Kubica?

  3. Very strange he is so far off knowing how good he was before the accident

    1. I do not think it is that strange. Although he has been driving, it has not been F1 cars or anything similar. Russel has been driving constantly in cars similar to F1 and around many of the tracks too. So Kubica is not “Match Fit” as they say. His earlier career was in a different type of F1 car than he is driving now too. He may also be not as inclined to take as many risks as Russel either, given his older and has been through some pretty bad crashes.

    2. Peter, as others have noted, it’s been a long time since Kubica has been racing competitively, and Kubica himself has talked in the past about how the reduction in motility in his wrist means he isn’t ever going to be able to completely regain the form he had that many years ago (he talked about those limitations when testing the ByKolles LMP1 car in 2016, and that was in a more spacious LMP1 cockpit).

      The gap between Kubica’s last race in 2010 and his first race in 2019 is over 8 years and 4 months, making his return one of the largest intervals in time between two Grand Prix – he’s been out of Formula 1 for longer than he has been in Formula 1, having been in the sport for less than four and a half years before his accident.

      That is a very long time for Kubica to have been out of the sport, meaning that the sport has changed quite significantly since he last drove – when he last drove, hybrid systems were in their infancy (and, although BMW Sauber did have a KERS unit, he only rarely used it), refuelling had only just been banned, the cars were still being designed to the 1.8m width regulations and the handling balance of the cars were quite different – Bridgestone were having to narrow the front tyres in Kubica’s last year from 270mm to 245mm because the drivers were complaining that the handling balance had been a bit too forward biased and was prone to provoking excessive oversteer.

      It also has to be said that Kubica doesn’t really have the advantage of experience to draw on either, or at least not as much as you would have expected him to have by now. Going into this season, he had less than 80 races under his belt, making him less experienced than Sainz Jr or Magnussen and about the same as Kvyat.

      For a driver of his age, that’s fairly limited – the three drivers left on the grid who were contemporaries of Kubica back then are Hamilton, Vettel and Raikkonen. The youngest and least experienced of that trio is Vettel, and he has 231 races under his belt by now – nearly four times the experience that Kubica has.

      In many ways, Kubica has something of the worst of both worlds, as his age means that he is potentially reaching the point where his reaction times will begin worsening slightly and maintaining his physical condition becomes more challenging, yet at the same time he does not have the experience that an older driver could rely on to be able to keep himself competitive at this point in his career.

      He’s not really raced properly for years, his physical condition, whilst better than it was for some time, is probably below where he would want it to be and he’s lacking in experience – when you look at it rationally, it’s not that surprising that he’s not able to compete at the sort of level he was at in 2010.

      In fact, most of the time that a driver has returned to the sport in that sort of way, they’ve rarely been that successful – I’d say that probably only Niki Lauda managed a reasonably successful comeback, and that was mainly because he returned at a younger age than Kubica did and only missed two seasons, far less than Kubica did.

      Otherwise, apart from that, most other drivers who have returned to the sport after an extended absence have generally hit the same issues – tending to be past their physical peak, lacking recent experience and lacking recent experience in on track action.

      1. Thanks for that, anon.

  4. to believe what Williams is officially saying is to believe in fairy tales. they will never tell you full picture like the one that team is not able to produce enough spare parts for both cars so Kubica cant push on limit in fear of losing only available new parts hes got. What about mirrors falling off on straight line already in 4th races ? happened only in Kubicas car. His car is lacking overal grip and its made of scraps. Somehow Georges car doesnt have falling off mirrors or other parts. Robert always understood tyres a lot, he was always taken to test them back them. But it can be also true that Russel knows something more as he is a merc driver and almost only Merc knows how to use their full potential this season.

    1. Completely agree. It’s delusional to think that the cars are identical. People who actually follow Williams closely know the truth and I’d rather believe RK than anyone from the Williams management. They’re champions when it comes to lying. Despite that, it’s Robert who is leading the head to head battle in points… and that’s all that matter really. Well, not on UK websites of course when George will always be the golden boy.

  5. Pirelli asked Robert to test tyres for them and you suggest that he doesn’t understand how to handle with them? It’s nonsense. And having same cars are another lie.
    Even on photos you can see that RK have older version of suspension. Beside that after last GP Mark Huges wrote an article where he says: Kubica didn’t have “the full update package, as parts are still in short supply

    1. Andreas Gandor
      12th August 2019, 17:34

      full ACK
      interesting that other members of the press, see differences on the cars for several races,
      but it’s enough when Mrs.Williams strongly denies it to believe that and not your own eyes

  6. I told it on numerous occasions – to expect Robert to come back and destroy the field was a mistake.
    I can understand the wish of many for “miracles”, but usually they don’t happen. This is a harsh life.

    Besides his F1 return is already a miracle, no need to expect greater miracles. What is left – is to enjoy it while it lasts, and don’t feel bad when it ends in 9 races.

    1. I told it on numerous occasions

      then it must be true

      1. Well, any binary decision\situation will always have someone who turns out to be correct and someone – wrong.
        You being offended by it is just silly.

  7. “There is much lap time to be found in mastering the art of the preparation lap.”

    I am increasingly becoming fed up with this nonsense. I am interested in who is the faster driver, not who can warm up his tires the best. I am also not interested in seeing Vettel beat Leclerc in Hungary, just because he managed his tires better in the first stint. This is not endurance racing.

    “Russell’s ascent through the GP3 and F2 ranks gave him more regular practice on the rubber”

    This is just as terrible. Needing years of practice – not practicing racing, but practicing tire management – just to be able to compete in Formula 1 bars anyone from taking an alternate route. Nobody from IndyCar would be so silly, as to switch to Formula 1 under these circumstances.

    Luckily Formula 1 seems to have understood the problem and requested low-degradation tires for 2020. Hopefully not too late for Kubica.

    1. I find it a bit odd that apparently the team (or maybe, also look at Red Bull, Haas, and Ferrari?) not able to ‘copy’ and explore a successful warm up strategy from one driver to help the other. It seems as is maybe only Mercedes has enough knowledge to get both their drivers usually on the right strategy there.

    2. I couldn’t imagine being a professional driver for 10-15 years and then getting to F1 and being told you can only stress the tyres vertically or laterally, not both, unless you want to destroy them.

      Fair enough to the youngsters who have came through junior formulae with those tyres but we shouldn’t be surprised to see the likes of Kubica, Webber etc not be able to get the hang of them whilst maintaining their raw speed.

      1. @alec-glen F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport, but not in everything. It must be frustrating for young drivers to go up the ranks of the junior series, only to find out that it’s not always that much fun driving an F1 car. F1 greats in the likes of Senna and Button mentioned that karting in fact is the purest form of motorsport, yet almost all kartdrivers want to leave kartracing to persue a career in car racing.

        1. @matthijs Agreed, and you get that sense when you read about Alonso etc still going back to karts on off weekends etc as they love it.

          I wouldn’t be that disappointed personally if I progressed to F1 which if not that much fun paid enough to have my own karting track :)

    3. “There is much lap time to be found in mastering the art of the preparation lap.”
      I am increasingly becoming fed up with this nonsense. I am interested in who is the faster driver, not who can warm up his tires the best.

      I understand, and my gut feel agrees with you, @uzsjgb.

      But you can also see tyre management the same as doing the set-up of a car. A different warm-up (like a different set-up) will create more/less mechanical grip at certain points of the track and over/understeer as preferred by the driver. It therefore is part of the overall art for a driver and team to find the best set-up and tyre management to squeeze out the fastest lap(s).

      If you just want to find the fastest driver you should give them a spec-car with a fixed set-up. I’d argue then that (s)he is only the fastest driver given those circumstances.
      At least the tyres are the same for all drivers, and it is part of their skill to extract the most out of them.

    4. @uzsjgb How to work & manage the tyres (Among other things) has always been an element of F1 to some extent. Perhaps now it’s a larger factor than it has been in the more recent past but the general need to know how to do it to get the most out of the car while managing various aspects of it isn’t really that different.

      When I began watching F1 for instance they still had qualifying tyres which required you prepare them on the out lap in a similar way to current tyres & again like current tyres you had to manage them over the lap to ensure you didn’t take too much life out of them before finishing the lap. And in races it still wasn’t that uncommon to make no stops so you had to manage the tyres over the race to ensure they had some life left in them at the end. And other aspects of the car also required management back then & been able to do all of this while maintaining good pace was considered a key driver skill.

      People often say today that the management & some of the more endurance aspects aren’t F1 but i’d disagree & point out that they were a big factor & a big part of F1 for much of the series history to varying degrees.

      1. Definitely. There are all kinds of examples from Fangio et al, where races were won and lost on tyre strategy/management. Back in the pre-aero days, a lot of corners were taken in a four wheel drift, steering with the throttle. Go at things a bit hard and you could ruin a set of tyres in a lap.

  8. It makes one wonder in hindsight if things would have been different if Kubica spent a year in a junior formula like F2 before coming into F1.

    1. @phylyp That’s something I didn’t think about, perhaps it would have been a better move.

    2. @phylyp age limit in f2 and other jr champs.

  9. This is the closest to a fair and objective comparison between Williams drivers I have seen on this site for a while now.

    I agree with most of it, still have some doubts on the (e)quality of the cars, given the inability in Williams to produce parts that survive the race distance, but I will leave it until end of the season to have my final judgement.

    Not sure how many of you have been here during F1 Fanatic times, but just have a read through the comments of this:

    Since (if nothing changes drastically) most likely Robert will be out of the sport by the end of the season, I would love to see all F1 fans concentrate on the fact that Robert has made it back to F1 and inspired many people while doing so, rather than on the fact he is half a second slower than a “future world champion material” as they (quite rightly) call George.

  10. That’s a joke of Williams that both cars are the same. How many times, for example, a mirror fell down at Russell’s car? In Russell’s car – zero times. In Kubica’s car 4 times. How many times the steering wheel was wobbling and drifting the car to the side? Again zero to a couple of times, watch this Do all upgrade parts are available in Kubica’s car as they are in Russel’s one? No. Mark Hughes on this: “Robert Kubica – with not the full update package, as parts are still in short supply – was at the back 1.2sec adrift.”

    @racefans: Do stats how long Russell vs Kubica used more aggressive engine modes? For some reason, the team orders Kubica to use less aggressive engine mode more frequently.

    Why Williams state that both cars are identical? I don’s know. Perhaps politics.

    1. @netizen Williams has a major income stream from Polish sponsors. It behooves them to promote a line of thinking that neither implies the team is disfavouring the Polish driver, nor leaves them hopeless for improvement. There aren’t many things they can say that achieve this, especially given that Robert is known for his honesty.

  11. Considering the gap between them over the couse of the season, you wonder what kind of F1-shaped block of wood they were driving in Bahrain and China where they were so closely matched and so damn slow. When the car is that bad, you could be (current) Russell or (current) Kubica and still get the same laptime no matter how hard you try.

    1. I have a feeling this is pre hungary.

  12. See new interview with Claire Williams:

    Claire Williams says the Pole is delivering in the way the team needs him to.
    “We needed a driver like Robert with his engineering and technical intelligence,” said Williams.

    So, Robert has engineering and technical intelligence (based on Claire Williams from Williams) and don’t understand Pirelli tires (based on Dave Robson from Williams) – doesn’t that sound strange?

    I think that the reason for current Williams situation is lack of money.

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