After battling through years of recovery following his near-fatal accident while rallying back in 2011, Robert Kubica is back circuit racing. For the Pole, who lets not forget was a Formula One race winner in the last decade, it’s been a long road.
After rising through the ranks in rallying the past few years, proving his versatility, Kubica is hoping to move back onto asphalt once again, and testing with ByKolles a week ago in Bahrain was another step towards a full-time return.
It wasn’t an easy day of testing though for him, as after stepping out the CLM P1/01 following the afternoon running in the post-season WEC Rookie Test, Kubica revealed that driving an LMP1 car was harder than he envisioned. He also feels that prototype racing in the end may still not be possible for him, due to the damage sustained to his right hand in his accident making it too hard to drive for long periods of time in high-downforce machinery.
“Of course LMP1 doesn’t need to be introduced,” he said. “All motorsport fans know about LMP1, it’s kind of Formula 1 with covered wheels. I think the technology and the cars are really sophisticated, and if we go into details on the top cars, there’s a lot of similarities from Formula One. There’s the same people too, I saw a lot of people I knew from the past in the paddock.
“I knew Colin (Kolles) since Formula 3, and for a few weeks he wanted me to come here,” Kubica explained when asked about how his drive with ByKolles came about, “and last week I called him and said I would do it. With my limitations it’s difficult for me, I would have liked proper seat fitting from a factory, because without that I wasn’t sure if I could drive or not, it was quite risky to go to Bahrain.
“I made it clear to Colin that if I came here I would do it to drive but would listen to my body.”
Prior to his trip to Bahrain, Kubica went racing in the 24H Series at Mugello for MP Sports in a Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 back in March, before driving a Renault R.S.01 at Spa and Vallelunga in September. But despite the experience driving long distances in the Mercedes, and the R.S.01 being a borderline prototype, an LMP1 car is a completely different challenge.
“I was quite comfortable in the car, not 100% but I could drive still and we used the day as a rollout,” he added.
Before coming here, I thought some corners would be easy flat, the high speed ones, but actually they weren’t
“To be honest I don’t have any other cars to compare it too. I was expecting higher downforce, the only series I have driven the Bahrain circuit in was Formula One. Before coming here, I thought some corners would be easy flat, the high speed ones, but actually they weren’t.
“The top cars are going through them much faster, but I was expecting to be more shocked by downforce. In the end I have driven F1 cars in the best days, when there was a lot of downforce in the corners. Everything that isn’t F1 therefore doesn’t make as good of an impression.
“My first thought was that the car wasn’t easy to drive; not physically, but balance wise. It wasn’t easy to enjoy,” he then admitted. “We did improve the car later, with better tyres, it did come together, and I did enjoy a few laps.
“I still think the car needs to be more adapted to me. Many times I’ve been called to test cars like this, and I refused because I wasn’t sure I could do it.”
A drive in the FIA WEC next year therefore isn’t as high up on his list of priorities as one might think. In fact, when asked about the possibility of him appearing in the paddock in the future, he downplayed his enthusiasm.
It was no secret that I was hoping to do some other series’ next year on circuits, but they would be too difficult for me
“I learned in my life to never say never, anything is possible,” he said. “It was no secret that I was hoping to do some other series’ next year on circuits, but they would be too difficult for me. The only reason I’m not very convinced, is not about the level of the championship, it’s the characteristics of the category. The races are high-level races. It’s not that you go chill out and you do 12 hours, 24 hours cruising, you have to push.
“But I would have to change the way I am as a driver, I would have to adapt and take a different approach. Because it’s something new, I’m not 100 percent sure I will like it, but on the other hand every new challenge gives you some extra motivation to try them to see if you can do it well. Endurance races have always given me mixed feelings, I find it strange to see my car being driven by someone else, I’m not used to it.
“I would decide to do it, it’s because I want to do it, not because I don’t have anything else to do. I came here just to see, to get rid of some doubts I have. The fact is I do not know what I will be doing.
“But on the other hand I don’t want to hurry. If something good comes, I will speak about it. The category is a very high level and I think it’s growing up a lot, although Audi pulled out which is a shame, but for sure endurance races plus Le Mans makes something very attractive.”
Outside of driving the CLM at Bahrain, Kubica used his time at the track as a chance to once again work at an F1 circuit in a high-level championship, something he hasn’t done properly since his accident.
For Kubica, it’s not been easy to come back to places which he visited with the F1 circus. He clearly misses racing at the top-end of the sport, and has struggled to accept that his days racing in F1 are almost certainly over.
For me, to come to Bahrain even two years ago, wouldn’t have been possible mentally, it would have hurt too much
“What I miss is the working approach, not the driving, it’s the way I can work at a circuit,” he concluded. “Often we talk about drivers driving, but top level drivers make a big difference with their approach. I miss that. It will sound like I’m selling myself, but it’s not true, I’m just missing this. If I had the chance to be a part of a big project I would do it, if not I don’t know.
“I left Formula One in an unusual way, I finished my career when people didn’t expect me to. When I had my accident, I had so many positive messages but on the other hand I shut down and turned the page because it hurt. It hurt because I have good memories from travelling the world.
“For me, to come to Bahrain even two years ago, wouldn’t have been possible mentally, it would have hurt too much.
“That’s why I went rallying, it’s completely different, the atmosphere and approach is too.”