Full Throttle: Keeping the boredom at bay...
"Why do they do it?" my neighbour asked as I returned from the supermarket with bags of shopping in hand. "Do what? I replied, fighting to conceal the pain I was experiencing via the skin-slicing plastic bag handles. "Why do they get behind the wheel of those bloody rally cars? Come to think of it, why do the teams let 'em?"
I have to admit I paused before offering a response. The fact is, Robert Kubica's crash during the in the Ronde di Andora rally last Sunday has demonstrably highlighted the 'fix' most contemporary Formula One drivers need to replace the adrenaline that comes from driving a grand prix car at speed during the season.
Time was when testing was de rigueur; with most teams spending hours (and millions of pounds) getting their drivers to pound around various circuits in search of a few extra tenths of a second. The drivers certainly enjoyed more time in the cockpit than they experience today which sees them limited to four pre-season tests, no running in between races, and only a handful of days testing post season. Even their time in the cars during a race weekend is reduced so finding suitable adrenaline substitutes is understandably essential.
Training is an arduous yet necessary task for a driver and while most seem obsessed by using the Triathlon as a means to train and stave off the boredom factor that comes with such little time in the car, others simply find activities like Triathlon cannot quash their 'need for speed' or competition. Drivers are, by their very nature, a different breed from us mere mortals and trying to stem the demand they harbour for exposing themselves to danger, is as easy a task as trying to fold a newspaper in a gale force wind.
Chatting to Timo Glock at the launch of the Marussia Virgin MVR-02 at the BBC Centre in London on Monday, we touched on the Polish drivers accident and while the German was full of good wishes for his rival to make a safe return to action, he was a little surprised Kubica was allowed to put himself in such a position so close to the start of the season.
"Of course, no one knew this would happen to Robert," Glock said. " But at the same time, finding a suitable activity to replace the thrills we get from driving an F1 car is hard. In general, I do all the normal training like running, swimming and biking but in relation to what happened to Robert, it doesn't really matter what you are doing, you can still get injured. Mark (Webber) likes to ride mountain bikes, but he had a bad crash a couple of years ago so it' can be really just a question of being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Would he jump in a rally car while in the middle of an intense pre-season testing programme?
"I did a rally and had a couple of runs in 2008 in the Toyota WRC car at the Goodwood Festival of Speed which was good fun," Glock replies. "Having said that however, although driving those cars is exhilarating, they can be very, very dangerous as there is usually very little run off and in those situations you end up with accidents like Robert's. I know him well and he talks about it every weekend and he is just constantly thinking 'rally, rally, rally' so is it surprising he got in the car? No. Is it surprising the team let him drive the car with the start of season so close? Definitely... "
Back in 2009 when it became clear Fernando Alonso was to move from Renault to Ferrari, Kubica became the apple of Renault's eye and the only man they wanted to replace the departing Spaniard. Convinced, like most observers, that the Pole was a champion in waiting, the French marque set about capturing Kubica's signature on a contract and laid out the red carpet. The team had endured a horrendous year which was not helped by the 'Crashgate' fiasco that resulted in former team boss Flavio Briatore, former Engineering Chief Pat Symonds and driver Nelson Piquet Jr all receiving bans from the sport after being found guilty of cheating. The team was, not to put too fine a point on it, in crisis and Kubica was free to list his demands.
Sure, BMW Sauber had already confirmed they were to pull out of the sport at the end of the season but the Pole's stock was already high in the paddock so he was in a strong position to dictate terms for 2010. Soon, a 1- year deal was signed and as the relationship grew between driver and team, so did the desire to extend the deal beyond a single season and to the end of 2012.
Now of course, the team find themselves in a similar situation to the one Williams experienced in 1994 after the tragic death of Ayrton Senna and their need to find an experienced driver to sort out the problematic FW16. While marketing requirements of the day were the ultimate reason behind the installation of Nigel Mansell less than 7 weeks after Senna's passing, he was able to offer assistance in solving some of the issues presented by the chassis. Word has it he also rang the Renault team this week...
So what possesses a team boss to let his driver enter into such dangerous activities in the first place? Marusssia Virgin Racing boss John Booth, is adamant that some drivers need certain variables available to them in order to produce their best results for their respective employers.
"It depends entirely on who the individual is," he confirms. "Eric (Boullier) is the boss of his team (Renault) and will have taken a view on how to get the best out of Robert when they were negotiating his contract. They're not china dolls these Formula 1 drivers. They like going racing, and driving all manner of extreme, fast machines. So to try and stifle that spirit which comes naturally to them and is part of a drivers character, would be a tragic thing."
Hindsight is, as they, a wonderful thing and one can't help but wonder if Boullier is now cursing himself for permitting Kubica to drive in a rally knowing the dangers of having an accident are higher than they are in Formula 1.
Booth is adamant though that recent events would have no bearing on whether or not he permits his drivers to race outside F1 so close to the start of the season.
"I don't think Robert's crash would necessarily influence that decision," he confirms. "But any choice we took would be taken as a company and would depend on the situation but if we let what happened to Robert affect our decision, that wouldn't be proper. All drivers are different from one another and our guys are no different but I have to say that doubt I would grant my main driver the chance to get behind the wheel of a rally car - especially less than forty days before the green light in Bahrain."