Formula One - On and Off track week 6

Formula One - On and Off track week 6

After his horrific crash last Sunday in Italy, Renault driver Robert Kubica is in for a long recovery, which according to his doctors might take up to a year. Although his surgeons are now more positive about the outcome, the injuries he...


More surgery for Robert Kubica, No easy task for Kubica's replacement, FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy

More surgery for Robert Kubica

After his horrific crash last Sunday in Italy, Renault driver Robert Kubica is in for a long recovery, which according to his doctors might take up to a year. Although his surgeons are now more positive about the outcome, the injuries he sustained could jeopardize his racing career, at the moment his fate is literally in the hands of his surgeons. His right hand was partly severed, and only thanks to modern medicine and the expertise of his surgeons, his hand could be reconstructed, but there is no guarantee he will regain all of his hand functions.

Kubica during testing in Jerez last week.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Kubica has sustained several severe injuries, but the main concern is still his right hand, Professor Mario Igor Rossello, who was involved in the operation to reconstruct his hand, has said it could take up to a year before Kubica could return to Formula One. More operations are to follow, Friday he will undergo surgery to stabilize the fractures in his right shoulder and right foot, and he will be operated again three or four days later to stabilize the fractures in his right elbow. The good news is that Kubica's condition continues to improve, and his right arm is reacting as the doctors had expected. Kubica will stay at the Santa Corona hospital for two or three weeks, and a decision where he will be taken to continue his rehabilitation will be made later.

Giorgio Barabino, the head of the intensive care unit of the Santa Corona hospital about Kubica's progress, "Robert's medical evolution is excellent: he is able to drink and to execute small movements with the hand. It's difficult to make predictions, what's certain is that it's rare to find such a strong patient." His prognosis regarding Kubica's full recovery was the same as Rossello's , "A partial recovery will be possible within a few months: we'll see if he can reach a full functionality of his arm and hand. To reach an objective such as this, he would need one year anyway."

Kubica also has to come to terms with the fact his 2011 campaign is over, Renault has released a statement which hints the Pole is fully prepared to fight for his comeback: "Robert was able to talk to his doctors and relatives. His medication makes him sleep quite a lot, but he is responding to all external stimulation. He has reacted well to the news about his condition and is ready to fight for his comeback."

The news was a shock for him as well, but Renault Team Principal Eric Boullier has defended the decision to allow Kubica to continue his rally activities, although his previous team BMW-Sauber prohibited these activities. "Robert is a person we love dearly: we are extremely sad and obviously shocked," Boullier said after the news of Kubica's accident emerged on Sunday. "We've let him do it because rallying is what he loves to do. Rallying is vital for Robert and for his sanity. Besides that, there is a reciprocal agreement. We knew the risks and so did he." And added, "We didn't want a robot or a corporate man for a driver."

No easy task for Kubica's replacement

Some believe it is currently not appropriate to talk about a possible replacement driver, but Renault is running out of time. A replacement driver needs all the time in the car he can possibly get, the next pre- season test is due next week on February 10, and the first race of the season, the Bahrain Grand Prix, is only five weeks from now. Of course everyone would like to see Kubica back in the cockpit as soon as possible, but the reality is that he has sustained serious injuries, and he will need a long time to recover.

Robert Kubica, Lotus Renault GP, Jan Charouz, Bruno Senna, Romain Grosjean, Ho-Pin Tung, Vitaly Petrov, Lotus Renault GP.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Renault had hoped to launch a very strong campaign this season, and the their partnership with Group Lotus was part of a plan to turn Renault into a top Formula One team again, with a fighting chance for the championship. There is no doubt about it: Renault will certainly miss Kubica, he's in fact the backbone of the team and his skills and knowledge are badly needed. It will be very hard to appoint a replacement driver, as no one can really replace the Pole, who's talent, dogged determination and optimism has been of great support and is still a great inspiration for his team.

Renault are facing a huge dilemma, as it is not known how long it will take before Kubica will have fully recovered from his injuries, optimistic reports say 3 months, but his doctors claim it could take up to a year. Renault have several test and reserve drivers under contract, and during the launch of the Renault last week, Boullier hinted he would prefer Bruno Senna to be promoted to regular driver, not knowing he would have to make such a terrible decision just one week later.

There is a ever growing list of replacement drivers circulating on the Internet (in random order): Nick Heidfeld, Nico Hulkenberg, Senna, Romain Grosjean, Kimi Raikkonen, Christian Klien, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Pedro de la Rosa and even Jacques Villeneuve.

Renault has two choices: replace Kubica with a strong and experienced driver, which would be the preferred option if Kubica's recovery will take up to a year, or use one of their reserve drivers or a reserve driver from another team, and hope Kubica will make a swift recovery and perhaps can join the Renault team halfway the season. Not an easy decision, and the task for any replacement driver will not be easy either.

Although his Russian team colleague Vitaly Petrov is an excellent driver, he will not be able to support his team with the technical knowledge and experience Kubica has. With Kubica apparently facing a long recovery, Renault must hire an experienced driver, the four most experienced drivers on the list are Heidfeld, de la Rosa, Liuzzi and Raikkonen.

Kimi Raikkonen.
Photo by Red Bull GmbH and GEPA pictures GmbH.

It would certainly be good to see Raikkonen back in Formula One, but it seems very unlikely he will join the Renault team, although according to Citroen's rally chief Olivier Quesnel he is free to return to Formula One. The Finn was not happy about the way Renault has previously used his name to get extra media attention, not to mention the fact Raikkonen will certainly not be the cheapest driver to hire.

The most suitable candidate on the list is Heidfeld, but his manager Andre Theuerzeit has refused to comment on a possible return. "With respect for Robert, we believe it is currently not appropriate to speculate," he said. Christian Klien's manager Roman Rummenigge was less cautious, "Until now, HRT was the only team with a free cockpit. After the drama with Kubica I must of course follow my duty as manager and also consider Renault as an option."

The most natural choice for Renault would be to promote Senna or Grosjean, but are they really up to the job? Grosjean has previously driven the Renault during several Grands Prix, but his results were not really convincing. Senna learned the ropes at HRT in his 2010 rookie season, but what did he really learn there in a car that wasn't up to Formula One standards?

Nico Hulkenberg, Force India F1 Team, Test Driver.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Senna certainly has the talent, but Hulkenberg would be a better candidate. The German was very successful last season, and he was the team colleague of the most experienced Formula One driver ever: Rubens Barrichello. Ousted by Williams for financial reasons, he is now poised to show his talent should have prevailed, and not Pastor Maldonado's money.

Then there's of course Italian Liuzzi, he has plenty of experience, but Spaniard de la Rosa is just as experienced, both would be a good candidate. Although Villeneuve last year tried to get back in Formula One, the reality is that he has no experience at all with the latest generation of Formula One cars, and a return to the sport could become just as embarrassing as the last time he drove for the Sauber team in 2006, when he was ousted and replaced by ... yes indeed: Kubica.

FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy

A few weeks ago this column reported about the FIA Young Driver Excellence Academy, 18 young drivers had been selected for a three-day shoot-out at the Wachau Ring in Melk, Austria. The primary goal of the Academy is to prepare them for the pinnacle of motor sport (whether this is Rally or Formula One); to increase their skills in the area of driver and road safety; and to actively promote principles of safety, fairness and responsibility on and off track.

The Academy is led by former Formula One driver Alexander Wurz and former World Rally Champion co-driver Robert Reid, their task was to select the 12 candidates. The drivers had to compete in pairs in race-spec BMW M3's, on the first days their driving skills were tested, their reaction times, car control and the ability to control drift. Participants also had to prove themselves in the gym, and were put through a mixture of exercises to test their muscle strength and endurance.

On the second day, the drivers had to perform a series of driving tests and were judged on consistent results, both in dry and wet conditions. In the afternoon they had to present themselves to a judging panel, and had to answer questions relating to their career and future programs, and also had to answer questions about the work of the FIA Institute.

The third day was more a racing day for all candidates, and was the real shoot-out. They had to qualify and race with the BMW M3's, and at the end of the afternoon the 12 remaining candidates were announced. The candidates are: Kevin Abbring and Robin Frijns (Netherlands), Paul-Loup Chatin (France), Albert Costa (Spain), Alon Day (Israel), Philipp Eng (Austria), Timmy Hansen (Sweden), Egon Kaur (Estonia), Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway), Richie Stanaway (New Zealand), Stoffel Vandoorne (Belgium) and last but not least the multi-talented Alexander Rossi from the United States.

These 12 drivers will attend six separate workshops at different locations in Europe over the next few months, coached by Wurz and Reid. The workshops include development of technical skills, safety training and things like attitude and awareness. The first workshop will take place on February 26 to March 1 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Join us again next week for another episode of "Formula One: On and off track"

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Series GENERAL , F1