Renault – in more ways than one – has had a poor time of it in Formula 1 over the last couple of years. True, Fernando Alonso returned to the team, after a single season with McLaren, but even the world’s best driver can do little with a fundamentally uncompetitive car, and although Alonso invariably gave 100 per cent (for that is his way), he won only two races in two seasons – and one of those was the controversial affair at Singapore in 2008. His victory in the next race, at Fuji, was from the top drawer, but there were to be no more, and in ’09 Fernando really struggled, his Renault frankly nowhere near the pace.
As he left for Ferrari, so Robert Kubica – on the market following BMW’s withdrawal – took his place, but through the late months of last year rumours abounded that Renault, too, might follow the lead of Honda, Toyota and BMW, and disappear from F1. Theoretically, therefore, Kubica might have been on the street once more – and, frankly, I was surprised that during that period any team signed any driver before being certain of Robert’s situation.
For my money, he is one of the top four drivers in F1, and some go further than that. His close pal Alonso has said he considers him the best, while even Lewis Hamilton has – privately – admitted that Kubica is the driver he most fears.
When Renault announced that, while the team would be continuing under the same name, a considerable chunk of it had been sold, Kubica declared that he now considered himself free to walk, should he choose to do so. After being reassured that it would remain a serious F1 operation, he said he would remain – but his original contract was for one season only, and there has been speculation that he could well join Alonso at Ferrari in 2011.
It could be that Kubica will have a frustrating time of it – again – this year, but still it astonishes me that when pundits consider the prospects for the coming season, frequently they omit to mention him. In all probability, this is because they do not expect very much from Renault, but if the car is even half-decent expect to see Robert in there, pitching. He might not look the part as much as some, but potentially this is a great Grand Prix driver.