Will Monza prove to be Robert Kubica’s last Grand Prix start, 15 years after his first outing with the then BMW Sauber team back in Hungary 2006?
Assuming that Kimi Räikkönen is passed fit after his bout with Covid and returns to the Alfa Romeo cockpit at Sochi next weekend then Kubica will slip back into to his reserve role. Unless something else unexpected happens in the coming weeks then the Italian GP may well prove to be Kubica’s final fling.
If that is the case then the good news is that the two bonus outings at Zandvoort and Monza provided the Pole with some form of redemption after his frustrating return to F1 with Williams back in 2019 – even if circumstances meant that it was far from easy for him to show what he could do.
When Kubica made his return to F1 with Williams two years ago it was nothing short of a miracle given the extent of the injuries he suffered in his rally accident in 2011. It took eight years for it to come about, and it took a huge amount of determination and will in the face of much scepticism.
Alas he had the misfortune to come back just as the Grove team hit rock bottom, and in George Russell he was also alongside a brilliant young talent.
The circumstances could hardly have been any more difficult. Amid a deteriorating relationship with the team management Kubica had a frustrating season, essentially qualifying and running last most of the time. However he insists that it wasn’t as bad as it may have appeared.
“I said many times that it was much better year than it will look from the outside,” he said after the recent Monza race. “And to be honest, I think in 2019 I had a much better performance than these two weekends.
Kubica’s 2019 return with Williams was a difficult year for the Pole
Grand Prix Photo
“The only problem was the tools we had, and the situation we were in was very difficult one. And it has been disappointing, a tough year, but I knew that in some circumstances I was not as bad as people thought.
“On some tracks I was matching George’s pace – okay, it was not consistent, but many times I think he had to sweat quite a lot to stay in front in qualifying, and you could see what he could do last year with Mercedes.
“So in the end, it was not as bad. And then of course here it was not as easy as it looked outside. But as I say, it is completely different. That time I had a full season, I could adapt, I could learn, I could let’s say also adapt some things on the car. This year I struggled with the car. I’m sure last year the tyres would suit me better, and I’m sure I could perform much better.”
“We gave everything and I hope fans enjoyed it and appreciated it.”
Kubica has spent the last two seasons as Alfa’s reserve, courtesy of sponsor Orlen, knowing that his only chance to race would be if something happened to Räikkönen or Antonio Giovinazzi. He’s done the occasional FP1 session, and in this year’s outings he’s learned enough to know that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the 2021 spec package.
When he was needed at Zandvoort, it was far from easy – on an unfamiliar track he had to jump into Räikkönen’s car on Saturday morning. By Sunday he was up to speed and was able to put in a feisty performance, fighting for a while with former World Champion Sebastian Vettel. As he wryly noted it was the first time he’d actually been able to race in F1 since his Renault season in 2010.
At Monza he was able to make another step, thanks to knowing the circuit and having a full weekend in the car – although the sprint format was new to him, and didn’t give him much time to feel his way in before qualifying.
“I mean, of course it’s very nice, and I always kind of wanted to do FP1 in Monza just because I always feel quite special emotions here on this track,” he said. “It’s is one of the tracks whenever I’m coming to the paddock if it’s ELMS or even some testing, it gives me a special feeling.”
He made a good start in Saturday’s sprint race and passed several cars barrelling into the second chicane, before getting tangled up with Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri on the exit, and spinning to the back.
“If we didn’t touch with Tsunoda, I think it would be a move of the weekend, or actually it was the move of the weekend, I didn’t see a lot of moves what’s happened around today’s race! Definitely braking to the second chicane yesterday was quite brave, but in the end it worked well apart from on exit we touched with Yuki.”
Kubica leading former Williams team-mate George Russell
Grand Prix Photo
As at Zandvoort he kept himself busy in the Grand Prix itself, again fighting with Vettel, among others.
“It was a difficult race with sliding a lot, especially on the hard compound, and difficult to follow the other cars. I think generally we were running lower level downforce or very low level downforce compared to the others. We were very strong on the straight line.
“But this helped us to protect, but to follow the others I struggled a lot and the tyres were sliding a lot, overheating. So yeah, it wasn’t easy. The first stint with hard tyres, actually the pace was looking not good, but in the end it was turning to our way, with George having quite a lot of difficulties with the tyres.
“But at that stage I got called to save a lot of fuel. I don’t know if we had some issue, or maybe the pace we have seen that probably we will not be lapped and or something like this, and I had to save a lot of fuel. I lost a lot of gap.
“The safety car reshuffled a bit, and then on the restart I was very close to Ocon, but I lost so much grip, so much downforce and actually this complicated my life a bit. And then I defended pretty well with Seb for a few laps, trying to also stay attached to Latifi, which I was managing. But when Seb overtook me I couldn’t follow him. And then I swapped positions with Antonio. So we finished the race like this.”
On paper it was a humble 14th, one place higher than at Zandvoort a week earlier, and not a lot better than the results he achieved with Williams in 2019.
The circumstances were far from optimal, but over those two bonus weekends Kubica had done much to banish the ghost of that troubled Williams season and remind people that the 36-year-old was once a genuine contender.
This was the man who fought with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in F3, and with BMW Sauber took a pole and won a Grand Prix, marking himself a potential World Champion. Before his accident robbed him of the career he should have had, he was destined to drive for Ferrari.