Robert Kubica’s road to Formula One has been a fluctuating cycle of promise and practical realization. Many were confident of Robert’s return to the sport was just a matter of time, but the series of surgeries that seemed to drag on dampened many of the hopes of his eager fans. Once the myriad of operations were complete, hopes started to come back. Robert’s mobility was extremely taxing, with the severity of his injuries seriously hindering his ability to operate normally. The crux of his problem was arm mobility, however, and the extent to which his accident reduced, and almost eliminated, his arm movement was shocking. His right arm was almost severed completely in the accident, so it was a miracle that any measure of movement was restored at all. Surgery dragged on longer than most expected, however, and the anxiety over whether Robert would ever return to competitive action started to set in.
Up to this point, the coverage of Robert’s rehabilitation was often conflicting. Some said he could definitely return to Formula One and others kept their expectations low. Simply driving a road car would be a victory in itself. When that eventually happened, it was only a matter of time until Robert returned to the wheel of a racing car again.
When this return eventually happened, at the wheel of another rally car, he was immediately impressive. While only a regional rally, the fact that Robert won was a testament to the work by the doctors who helped him and the sheer grit and determination to return to what he knew best: racing. There was a notable increase in optimism once this first hurdle was overcome, but Robert was still a long way off being able to return to action in a Formula One car.
Even Robert himself has done his best to keep his expectations low. The nature of single seater racing is such that his injuries, no matter how much improvement, will always hold him back for the rest of his life. The restricted confines of a Formula One car make arm movement one of the most important aspects of driving. Whereas in a road car or even a rally car movements to turn the wheel could be accomplished with the help of shoulder positioning and alterations, the confines of a Formula One car restrict all steering to be accomplished exclusively by the arms. The fact remains that if Robert cannot recover enough to gain full mobility of his arms, he will be restricted to rally cars for a long time.
After his fantastic, winning return to racing Robert and his story of recovery fell out of public awareness for the most part. His progress was still covered and when he participated in rallies he was always covered by the media, no matter how small the rally may have been. However, popular sentiment had (and still is) started to accept that a return to single seater action was unlikely, if not impossible. His progress, while still tangible, was not happening fast enough to truly warrant more hope for a Formula One return.
This year, though, has seen a significant step in his rehabilitation process. For 2013, he is contesting the European Rally Championship along with select World Rally Championship events in its junior category. This step back onto the world stage is reasserting Robert’s ambitions. Maybe he knows that a Formula One return is now a hope rather than a goal, but he will not back down from trying his best to get there.
This backstory has led to the news today that Robert has partaken in a Formula One simulator test in Mercedes’ factory in Brackley. This is a surprising step forward not only in the type of machinery he has been using in the recent months, but Robert’s confidence is certainly back. He says that his injuries have healed to the point where he believes he could drive a Formula One car at certain tracks. This is a bold claim, and hopefully the simulator put it to the test.
Robert’s return to the sport, however, depends on a team’s gamble just as much as on his ability. Robert can pound around on the simulator as much as he wants. That is great. But once you get him out on a real track, with real pressure mounted on him, will he be able to deliver and make sure that his safety remains? Odd are on yes, but how many teams will be able to take that gamble. There is no denying that Robert is a fantastic driver and one who certainly performed better than the statistics convey, but the odds are also that this performance may be lost forever. How are we to know for sure if Robert is still the superstar of Formula One or just another driver. These are the types of unanswerable questions that can only be answered on track, in real racing conditions. By then, it would be too late to take back an offer for a Formula One drive.
These types of uncertainties are what Formula One teams really hate. If someone does take a leap of faith in the next couple of years and signs Robert to their Formula One team, then they have all my support. The thing is, however, I just don’t see it happening. This sport is all about taking measurable certainties and combining them into a whole that not only delivers, but delivers consistently. If there is one uncertainty, even a small one, this whole dynamic can be thrown off. That takes away confidence, efficiency and, most importantly, money.
I sincerely hope Robert can return to Formula One. His time in the sport was cut off entirely too short and he deserves to see his career out. However, hurdles still remain and it is more likely than not that Robert will never return to Formula One. The very nature of the sport he is trying to return to is working against him. If Robert thought all the obstacles so far were difficult to overcome, he still has one more which could trump them all.