Can Robert Kubica Break an F1 Record in 2018?

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We at F1Bytes were super excited to hear that Robert Kubica has once again found himself behind the wheel of an F1 racecar. After a seven year absence Kubica demonstrated real pace in his recent testing with Renault. Clearly his injury has not blunted his incredible talent.

Is a fairy tale return to F1 possible? We certainly hope so. But the stats suggest it may be a tough road.

The Crash

Robert Kubica was tipped as a future world champion when he entered the sport in late 2006. He claimed a podium in only his second race and won the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix for BMW Sauber. Tragically in February 2011 the career of one of the most promising young Formula One drivers was cut short. An accident in a low-key rally in Italy left him with a partially severed right hand.

The Recovery

Following the crash and after years of rehabilitation Kubica was physically able to drive again. Ironically he focused on rally, managing to win the World Rally Championship-2 in 2013. Unfortunately it was thought that limited mobility in his right arm would preclude him from returning to F1.

However in early June 2017 Robert Kubica, now 32, tested a 2012-spec car for Renault at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Valencia. Kubica out-paced the team’s quick junior driver Sergey Sirotkin (who drove the previous day) identifying the key areas of weakness in the car. The 115 laps completed were his first laps in an F1 car since a pre-season test at the same circuit in 2011. In that test, and just three days before his accident, Kubica had set the fastest time.

Following the June 2017 test Robert indicated he is now targeting a “proper comeback” to F1. So is a comeback feasible? And just how good was Robert Kubica?

How good was Robert Kubica?

In a generation that includes Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, Kubica was arguably the best of them all – according to Fernando! In 2012, Alonso told Autosport’s Jonathan Noble how Kubica was “the best driver of the group”. The two-time world champion, considered by many to be the most complete performer in F1, admitted Kubica was the one he feared the most.

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Lewis Hamilton was of a similar mind. He regarded Kubica as the best driver he had ever encountered as they made their way through karting and up the junior car racing ladder.

So what do the stats tell us? Below are the Head to Head stats between Kubica and Nick Heidfeld during their four years together at BMW Sauber. It was clearly a tightly fought battle but the stats suggest Kubica came out on top overall. “Quick Nick” had a longstanding and successful career including 13 podiums.

Season: 2006 – 2009
Drivers: Kubica v Heidfeld
Team: BMW Sauber
Races: 57
H2H Winner: Kubica (4/2/0)
Kubica Heidfeld Winner
Points 137 150 Heidfeld
Race Result 24 21 Kubica
Qualifying 28 29 Heidfeld
Fastest Lap 29 27 Kubica
Laps in Top 10 2510 2385 Kubica
Best Result 1st 2nd (6x) Kubica

In 2010 Kubica joined Renault and proceeded to wipe the statistical floor with his team mate, Vitaly Petrov, finishing eighth in the Championship.

Season: 2010
Drivers: Kubica v Petrov
Team: Renault
Races: 19
H2H Winner: Kubica (6/0/0)
Kubica Petrov Winner
Points 136 27 Kubica
Race Result 12 0 Kubica
Qualifying 17 2 Kubica
Fastest Lap 15 3 Kubica
Laps in Top 10 891 336 Kubica
Best Result 2nd 5th Kubica

Overall Kubica achieved one victory, 12 podiums, and 273 championship points during his 5 years in Formula One. Is there more to come?

A Kubica comeback in perspective

Notwithstanding Kubica’s long recovery from injury is there any precedent for a comeback after so long away from F1? In short…yes…but there’s records to be broken if it’s to be a successful comeback!

Below are the ten longest driver absences preceding an F1 comeback. In the right hand columns you can see the (conspicuously absent) podiums achieved by returning drivers.

# Driver Absence Returned Constructor 1st 2nd 3rd Total
1 Jan Lammers 3745 days 25-10-1992 March 0 0 0 0
2 Paddy Driver 3745 days 30-03-1974 Team Lotus 0 0 0 0
3 Luca Badoer 3584 days 23-08-2009 Ferrari 0 0 0 0
4 Gene Force 3288 days 30-05-1960 Kurtis Kraft 0 0 0 0
5 Pete Lovely 3226 days 20-09-1969 Lotus-Ford 0 0 0 0
6 Peter Revson 2583 days 03-10-1971 Tyrrell 2 2 4 8
7 Eppie Wietzes 2583 days 22-09-1974 Brabham 0 0 0 0
8 Mike Parkes 2542 days 03-07-1966 Ferrari 0 2 0 2
9 Bruno Giacomelli 2402 days 13-05-1990 Life 0 0 0 0
10 Mike Hailwood 2289 days 05-09-1971 Surtees 0 1 1 2

Let’s for a moment assume Kubica returns to F1 for the first round of the 2018 Season. He would have not raced in Formula 1 for 2,688 days – no driver has ever scored a podium finish after that duration out of the sport!

Below are the top 25 drivers (ranked on duration out of the sport) who achieved at least one podium post comeback. Those drivers achieving more than 5 podiums are highlighted.

# Driver Absence Returned Constructor 1st 2nd 3rd Total
1 Peter Revson 2583 days 03-10-1971 Tyrrell 2 2 4 8
2 Mike Parkes 2542 days 03-07-1966 Ferrari 0 2 0 2
3 Mike Hailwood 2289 days 05-09-1971 Surtees 0 1 1 2
4 Roberto Moreno 1947 days 01-11-1987 AGS 0 1 0 1
5 Alexander Wurz 1645 days 24-04-2005 McLaren 0 0 2 2
6 Stefan Johansson 1266 days 16-07-1983 Spirit 0 4 8 12
7 Timo Glock 1239 days 16-03-2008 Toyota 0 2 1 3
8 Michael Schumacher 1239 days 14-03-2010 Mercedes 0 0 1 1
9 Paul Russo 1096 days 30-05-1953 Kurtis Kraft 0 1 0 1
10 Pat Flaherty 1096 days 30-05-1953 Kuzma 1 0 0 1
11 Lucien Bianchi 1078 days 26-05-1968 Cooper-BRM 0 0 1 1
12 Pedro de la Rosa 903 days 03-04-2005 McLaren 0 1 0 1
13 Èric Bernard 889 days 27-03-1994 Ligier 0 0 1 1
14 Romain Grosjean 868 days 18-03-2012 Lotus F1 0 2 8 10
15 Kimi Räikkönen 868 days 18-03-2012 Lotus F1 2 14 10 26
16 Niki Lauda 846 days 23-01-1982 McLaren 8 5 2 15
17 Jean-Pierre Jabouille 741 days 16-07-1977 Renault 2 0 0 2
18 Lucien Bianchi 735 days 13-06-1965 BRM 0 0 1 1
19 Jim Rathmann 731 days 30-05-1952 Kurtis Kraft 1 3 0 4
20 Jimmy Davies 731 days 30-05-1953 Kurtis Kraft 0 0 1 1
21 John Love 731 days 02-01-1967 Cooper-Climax 0 1 0 1
22 Ron Flockhart 728 days 14-07-1956 BRM 0 0 1 1
23 Onofre Marimón 721 days 21-06-1953 Maserati 0 0 2 2
24 Mario Andretti 714 days 22-09-1974 Parnelli 11 2 4 17
25 Olivier Gendebien 714 days 15-06-1958 Ferrari 0 1 1 2

The list contains some significant names: Revson, Raikkonen, Lauda, Andretti. In fact Kimi Raikonnen had a similar career path to Kubica going from F1 to rally and back to F1, although for completely different reasons to Robert. Kimi was also only out of the sport for a comparatively brief 868 days. Needless to say if Kubica is to come back he will need to cover some unprecedented ground to be successful.

Should Kubica indeed mount a “proper comeback” and should his performance in the recent Renault test be replicated in grands prix, this could be one of the truly great sporting comebacks. We at F1Bytes very much hope to see it happen. Go Robert!

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