There have been numerous questions about Robert Kubica’s future, particularly after comments he made in Singapore, Russia and Japan about his planned exit from Williams and his treatment within the team.
Kubica’s return to racing in F1 had all the makings of a feel-good story in a sport that too-seldom displays its human side. It is a great pity for both team and driver that 2019 started so poorly, what with the team not even having its car ready for the first of those crucial pre-season test sessions. That set the scene for the year ahead.
Despite Kubica being rather outspoken, we are unlikely to ever know exactly what transpired behind closed doors, for William traditionally maintains a stiff upper-lip about such things. That characteristic has not changed even if their on-track performance has, for the worse. I believe there are three sides to the story: his side, team side and a fuzzy bit between the two.
However, no matter how much a team has underperformed – and Williams surely has this year – it’s simply unfathomable for a team to give any driver second-rate treatment – particularly when going all out to claw its way back up the grid. Yes, there were acerbic comments from Kubica in Japan about having a new front wing design taken off his car, but had it offered a clear-cut advantage, I’m sure the team would have used it.
After all, why screw yourself in what could well have be an unpredictable race, given the after-effects of Super Typhoon Hagibis?
But what is equally clear, is that Kubica has also serially underperformed, particularly in relation to his rookie team-mate George Russell, who has out-qualified him 15-0, disregarding the two events where Kubica did not set a time: Belgium (power unit failure) and Japan (crash).
Whenever a pale blue car finds a barrier, the immediate response from many in the media centre is ‘Kubica’, and more often than not that has been confirmed by either helmet recognition or screen graphics. Unfair, maybe – after all Russell has crashed out of two of the last three races – but also telling.
Nonetheless, Kubica has contributed to a shortage of parts suffered by the team, particularly where back-to-back races are concerned. Members of his fan club have suggested that he overdrives to compensate for (perceived) equipment shortcomings, but is not acceptable at the top level if true – which I doubt. Let us not forget that he suffered a number of spectacular accidents during his 2013-16 WRC spell.
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I believe that since he suffered those appalling injuries in 2011, Kubica’s natural abilities have been eroded – apart from any other consideration – by time and the fact he does not have the bank of experience to compensate for the onward march of age as do his peers, who did not suffer the same career interruptions.
That, more than any unequal kit or treatment, has resulted in him being unable to realise the enormous potential he showed before his life-changing accident. More’s the pity, of course, but that’s the cruelty of life in general, and his situation in particular.
So what difference would a return in a less terrible car than an FW42 have made? You can take it as a given that Kubica would have enjoyed more success this year with another team, particularly Alfa Romeo, where he started his F1 career and scored his only career win, during its previous incarnation as BMW Sauber. No one is denying Williams has underperformed. However, the crucial question is not so much that, but whether he would have outperformed his team mate, which is the truest measure.
Much as I rate Russell – who like Charles Leclerc took back-to-back titles in F1’s designated top ‘feeder series’ and has the backing of one of the sport’s top two teams – I doubt he delivered superstar performances in his rookie season. Yet he has comfortably outshone Robert all season, so depending on who would have raced alongside Kubica, I believe the chances are that he would have been outperformed.
So to answer Dan’s question, it depends on your definition of ‘more success’. If it be points scored, I have no doubt Kubica would have scored more than the single point scored to date this year; if it be a more a successful season in reputation terms, I unfortunately doubt it, harsh as those words are to write and read.
Looking ahead, I believe Kubica can look forward to a solid, high-level driving career – in, say, touring or sports cars, and will be much in demand as a simulator driver given. But I fear his F1 racing days are now over.
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