Kubica steps in as BMW, Villeneuve split

Kubica steps in as BMW, Villeneuve split

Robert Kubica drove his Formula One debut in a BMW Sauber in the Hungarian Grand Prix this past weekend, ostensibly because regular driver Jacques Villeneuve was still suffering from the effects of his crash at the German Grand Prix a week ...

Robert Kubica drove his Formula One debut in a BMW Sauber in the Hungarian Grand Prix this past weekend, ostensibly because regular driver Jacques Villeneuve was still suffering from the effects of his crash at the German Grand Prix a week ago.

Jacques Villeneuve.
Photo by xpb.cc.

However, the rumour mill was already in full force on the weekend that this was the end of Villeneuve's career -- at least at BMW -- with the team's promising young test driver, Kubica, taking over for the rest of the season.

And, indeed, today the 1997 champion confirmed as much.

"Last week the team informed us of its decision to review its options for next year, including assessing Kubica in a race environment," Villeneuve said. "(I was not offered) any assurance about my race seat beyond Hungary."

And as soon as the weekend wrapped up, the hammer fell on Villeneuve. The team announced this morning that it had come to an agreement with the Canadian veteran to terminate the relationship immediately.

"After Jacques' accident in the Hockenheim race the team decided to review its options for next year, including assessing Robert Kubica in a race environment," Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport director, explained.

"Our decision to look towards evaluating our driver line up has naturally impacted Jacques' position for the remainder of this season. We fully understand that it is difficult for Jacques to maintain his natural level of commitment in circumstances of uncertainty. We respect his position and wish him well for the future."

The evaluation of Kubica's race weekend performance surely was more than satisfactory to Theissen and the team: the young Polish driver set the 12th-fastest qualifying time, one ahead of experienced teammate Nick Heidfeld, and started 9th thanks to a variety of penalties to other drivers.

In the chaotic rainy conditions of the Hungaroring race, he made an early mistake, spinning off, but recovering and rejoining the race. He then drove a steady race in the treacherous conditions to finish seventh, only one lap behind, to claim points in his F1 debut. In the event, though, he did not get to keep those points, as post-race scrutineering found his BMW to be two kilograms under minimum weight, which was grounds for disqualification.

Kubica now looks like a shoo-in for the remaining five races on the schedule, and the 2005 World Series by Renault champion surely has the inside line for the 2007 season as well.

As for Villeneuve, it is a disappointment as the Canadian had been hoping to return to the team for a third season. Instead, it will be time for him to look for a new opportunity.

"This is really disappointing as I was looking forward to working with BMW in the long term," he admitted. "I will now have more time to concentrate on future projects."

The hot rumour for that future project is currently the NASCAR Cup series, which already attracted McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya earlier this season. The oval-focused stock car series is radically different in technology and approach from Formula One, but has been highly successful and continues to attract larger audiences.

According to Journal de Montreal, Villeneuve has already signed a pre-contract to drive in the NASCAR Busch Series -- one step down from the Cup -- in 2007, and then at the premier level the following year. However, at least at this point both Villeneuve and all major NASCAR teams are denying knowledge of even discussions.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Sauber , McLaren