Ever since the rally accident that almost cost him his life, Robert Kubica has had to do things his own way. The manner in which he announced his departure from Williams in Singapore was no different.
Kubica was present in the main driver press conference and took the opportunity to confirm he will not remain with Williams in 2020. Instead of the usual case of a driver being replaced or signing elsewhere, this one was all about the Pole deciding he wanted to explore other opportunities and that his future is not with Williams.
Perhaps he saw the writing was on the wall given this year’s performances – from both himself and the team – but it was clear the season hasn’t gone the way either was hoping. George Russell has perhaps the only bright point for Williams this season; the reigning Formula 2 champion impressing in his debut year and performing consistently, comfortably out-qualifying and outracing his popular team-mate more often than not.
In that context, it’s easy to forget just what it is that Kubica has achieved. But there is no other way to describe him than as an inspiration.
Kubica was nearly killed in February 2011, and had to go through a huge amount of rehabilitation – including multiple surgeries – just to try and be able to live a normal life again. The reduced mobility in his right hand and arm appeared to rule out any return to Formula 1.
So to fight back to drive an F1 car again was an incredible achievement in itself. To then convince Williams of his capabilities as a reserve and development driver was remarkable, and then to return to race? That was special.
Granted, his performance has not been to the level it was in the past, but then nobody expected otherwise. The hope had been that he would show further improvement with more experience in the car, and you could argue he has given that he scored the only Williams point of the season to date with his drive in Germany, where not making mistakes and keeping the car on the road in very tricky conditions was key.
But try telling the 34-year-old that what he has achieved is extraordinary, and his only focus is on what he is going to do next.
“I’m not really a guy who is proud, but for sure it’s been a long journey so it always the same story, nothing has changed,” Kubica said. “It has been extremely hard for me, but nevertheless I still think I made the right decision.
“Everybody – myself and Williams – is in the same boat, and we would appreciate better results and better performance this year and an easier life, because in the end it is a very tough and difficult season for everyone in Williams. I just have to move forward, and that’s how it is. This is the outcome, and the reason I took the decision.”
It’s exactly the sort of attitude that got Kubica back to Formula 1 in the first place. Instead of spending too much time looking back on his previous career, he took on the challenge of returning to the sport despite the knowledge of how long a road it would be, with no guarantees about how he would perform once he got there.
It took over 18 months from testing an F1 car again to getting to race one, and the mere achievement of reaching the level required to be back on the grid commands the utmost respect from his peers.
“I have known Robert probably the longest – we started racing in go karts in 1997? 1998?” Lewis Hamilton recalls. “For me, Robert is one of the most talented drivers that I have competed against. From the beginning I saw the talent that he had, and naturally when you get to Formula 1 it has been a long time. He is quite old now! But it is still there.
“What is really remarkable is his strength and determination he has shown, particularly through the incident that he had. Not a lot of people can come from those circumstances and make it back into the sport and deliver against others who don’t have the same situation that he has been in.
“I think it has been great to have him back, and it is not the same scenario that he had before when he was in a more competitive team back in the day, but I think he has done great this year.”
Always humble, Kubica had actually asked for the drivers alongside him in the Thursday press conference to not answer the question about how impressed they are that he was able to return and drive at such a high level. Let’s not forget Kubica is still holding a place among the finest drivers in the world, but Romain Grosjean summed up how his attitude and achievements transcend motorsport.
“He’s an inspiration for anyone that had a bad experience,” he said. “First time I spoke to Robert was 2009 in Abu Dhabi, I think. We were supposed to be team-mates in 2010. I was very, very much looking forward to it. It didn’t happen.
“Then obviously I followed Robert as the third, or reserve, driver at Lotus when he had his accident, and then the way he came back. In motorsport he is an example, but also in life generally – to come back to the highest level and fight the way he fought back is very impressive.”
Reflecting on his racing career to date, Kubica did allow himself to admit just what a big deal his F1 return has been on a personal level, describing the full journey from rally crash to lining up on the grid once again as his biggest achievement.
“Honestly, if you take out the results which for sure have a big influence in motorsport, probably it is the last seven or eight years put together [that stands out],” he says. “Not one single moment. But it has definitely been the biggest achievement of my life to come back to achieve what I have managed to go through, what happened, and still managed to race. Being back on an F1 grid was definitely the best end of the period, the best [result] I could deserve and I could imagine.”
He might not be racing in F1 next year, but Kubica is confident he will be on a grid of some sort in 2020 and that will continue his remarkable story. Here’s hoping he can sign off in style, but regardless his achievements, he has written a new F1 chapter that deserves the utmost respect.