Formula One - On And Off Track Week 47

Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent

Story Highlights

  • Robert Kubica to miss start of 2012 season
  • Rubens Barrichello to retire or not?
  • Pedro de la Rosa makes racing comeback

Kubica to miss start of 2012 season

Today Robert Kubica announced he will not be fit enough to start the 2012 season for Lotus Renault. Despite an intensive training and recovery program it is for the Pole according to the statement ‘still too early for him to commit to driving in the 2012 championship.’ The Lotus Renault driver nearly lost his life during a horrible rally accident in February this year, and the crash left him with severe injuries to his right hand, elbow and right leg.

Since the accident Kubica has undergone several surgeries to repair his almost severed hand and arm, but although progress was made, he will not be fit in time for the start of the 2012 season. Ever since his crash there have been speculations as to when, and even if, he could make a full return to Grand Prix racing, and as this season progressed, it became clear Kubica needed more and more operations to improve the mobility of his hand and elbow.

Robert Kubica, testing at Valencia just four days before his accident
Robert Kubica, testing at Valencia just four days before his accident

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Initially it was expected Kubica would be fit for the Italian Grand Prix last September, but as a result of numerous operations the 26-year old driver and his Italian manager Daniel Morelli had to postpone his return until the end of the season, and today announced he will not even make it in time for the 2012 season.

”Even if I’ve been working very, very hard over the course of the last few weeks, I came to the conclusion that I am not yet certain to be ready for the 2012 season,” Kubica said today. “I have called the team and I have informed them of the situation. This was a difficult decision to make, but it is the most reasonable one.” He also is aware of the fact Lotus Renault has to make a decision sooner or later concerning their 2012 driver line-up, “I also know that LRGP need to prepare for next year, and further extending deadlines would not have been the right thing to do.”

Just two weeks ago, Kubica underwent another operation to again improve the mobility of his hand, performed by Italian hand surgeon Igor Rossello. “The mobility of Kubica's right hand is satisfactory,” Rossello said at the time. “Robert has told me that he has already driven a car. This a miracle of his will.” Kubica has been working with Rossello and Italian doctor Ricciardo Ceccarelli on his rehabilitation, but after the latter only one month ago revealed Kubica was still facing another operation and many months of rehabilitation, the initial optimism turned into pessimism.

Kubica on his condition, “My recovery is still very encouraging and my doctors keep being impressed. I just need more time, as I want to be 100% ready before I commit to anything driving related.” He also commented on the fact his manager Morelli had kept him out of the publicity for almost nine months. “Finally, I regret not having been able to provide more news and not having appeared in the papers, and I thank my friends of the media for understanding that this has been the best way for me to cope with what has been the most difficult period of my life.”

Meanwhile, the uncertainty of his return had put Lotus Renault in an awkward position, and Team Principal Eric Boullier was facing a difficult decision. The Frenchman was also shocked about the accident, and always maintained he would like to have Kubica back in his team, but as it gradually became apparent he wouldn’t be fit in time to race again, was forced to impose a deadline which expired a month ago.

No easy decision for Eric Boullier
No easy decision for Eric Boullier

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Boullier said today, “Everybody in the team is, of course, very disappointed today. Robert not driving in Australia at the start of next season is not what we were all hoping for.” He also praised the Pole for making a final decision, “He has taken a very mature decision, acting in the best interests of Lotus Renault GP.”

And he added, “As a family, we remain 100% behind him and we’ll help as much as we can. A program composed of simulator testing, single-seater and F1 track time is awaiting him.” About the future he commented, “In the meantime, we will start talking to a few drivers in order to finalize our line-up for next year as soon as possible. Robert will take it step by step and will jump back in his racing car when he feels it is the right moment to do so. On behalf of all 520 members of the team, I wish him a speedy recovery.”

Barrichello to retire or not?

Another very popular Formula One driver who is facing an uncertain future, is Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, as his Williams team is going through their worst season ever, two weeks ago Barrichello and his team mate Pastor Maldonado had to start from the last row of the grid, and although both drivers did a great job and finished in 12th and 14 place, Sir Frank Williams will certainly not be happy with the overall result of this season.

Williams have reshuffled their technical staff and contracted new personnel as well, but haven’t so far been able to make up their mind regarding the 2012 driver line-up. Main victim seems to be Barrichello, who after an uninterrupted 19 season-career in Formula One could be driving his 326th and last Grand Prix in his home country Brazil this weekend. The facts about Barrichello speak for themselves, he has participated in 325 Grands Prix, and actually started in 321 of them.

One he missed was the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, as he crashed heavily during Friday qualifying, and he was not allowed to start as a result. Not only the blackest weekend in Formula One but also the blackest weekend in Barrichello’s life, as the man he admired the most and was in fact the main reason for him being in the sport, his idol Ayrton Senna, died during the race on Sunday.

Barrichello won 11 races, ended on the podium on 68 occasions, took 14 pole positions and scored the fasted lap during 17 races and scored 658 World Championship points. An impressive C.V. and there is no doubt the Brazilian is the most experienced driver on the grid, not just because of his track record, but also because he knows how to setup a car and how to solve technical problems, which made him a valuable asset for the now struggling Williams team. But despite that, the Brazilian Grand Prix could be his last race, but the 39-year old driver born in Sao Paulo refuses to give up and is certainly not ready for retirement.

He in fact is fighting hard to keep his seat he revealed last Monday, and he is even looking to find the right sponsorship. “We are offering an unique form of participation [for a sponsor]; not just brand exposure but something personalized -- 'tailor-made' as the English would say. But they know that they can count on me for the speed and for the experience,” he explained.

Uncertain times for Rubens Barrichello
Uncertain times for Rubens Barrichello

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The rumors about his replacement are intensifying, as Williams also admitted they are talking with Kimi Raikkonen who apparently is interested to make a comeback to Formula One. And there are plenty of other drivers who would be more than happy to take the Brazilian’s place in 2012, apart from Maldonado and Raikkonen, Valtteri Bottas, Adrian Sutil and Dutchman Giedo van der Garde are trying to get a seat at one of the last real privateer teams on the grid.

Many would be happy to see Raikkonen make a return, and have welcomed Williams’ plans. McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, “I am sure he hasn't lost the capability to thrill us so I think it would be fantastic for Formula One. I wouldn't ordinarily presume to advise Sir Frank who he should sign but I think it would be exciting if he did.”

Ferrari Team Principal Stefano Domenicali was also exited by the news, “I know Kimi very well,” said the Italian. “He is very talented, very strong, he was the last driver to win the world championship with us and he will want to show he is still one of the strongest.”

Meanwhile, Barrichello remains upbeat, “I might go to Brazil without any confirmation but I'm not saying goodbye to my fans,” he said. And added, “I cannot talk anything bad about Kimi, or about anyone really. We all are in contention. I just hope I'm the better option.” And further commented, “When the time comes, I will have the farewell party; I have too many relationships established to disappear from the sport in one moment.”

But asked when Brazil would indeed be his last race, then what? “Then I am a happy person and, yes, I have to be prepared for anything. I have to stop one day. And if this is god's will then I will follow that path and perhaps it will be even better for my children as they grow up,” he answered.

Pedro de la Rosa makes racing comeback

The Spanish HRT team surprised the Formula One world by signing another ‘old-timer’, Pedro de la Rosa. The now 40-year old Spaniard has signed a two-year contract with the team, and will be the second oldest driver on the grid, with 42-year old Michael Schumacher on place one, and 39-year old Barrichello on third place, together good for almost 50 years of Grand Prix racing.

HRT had to fight hard and had to negotiate for months to convince de la Rosa to sign, as he already had a job as test driver at the McLaren team, something he was very reluctant to give up. HRT Sports Advisor Luis Pérez-Sala finally convinced de la Rosa. “Because of my relationship with Luis Pérez-Sala, we started talking about HRT's project for 2012 already back in July. To begin with, I didn't contemplate joining but the more I got to know about it week by week, and I saw what they were doing and how they were doing it, I understood that I had to be a part of this Spanish project,” de la Rosa stated.

He also admitted there was some patriotism involved, “For me it is an honor to be their driver. It couldn't be another way, a truly Spanish team with a Spanish driver. Nothing could make me happier than this and, although I'm aware of all the work we have ahead of us, it's a fascinating task which will require everyone's support.”

About his contract with McLaren he reported, “It's no secret that I had a contract with McLaren for the next few years so this was only possible because of them. But contractual matters apart, I know that without my eight year learning curve at McLaren I would not be here today, so I can only thank them because today I am a much better driver than when I joined them in 2003.”

Race return for Pedro de la Rosa
Race return for Pedro de la Rosa

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Pérez-Sala, a former Formula One driver himself, confirmed it took some time to get de la Rosa onboard, “We joined this project back in August and tried to convince Pedro to come on board from day one. It wasn't easy as he was very happy at McLaren-Mercedes but, in the end, he's decided to join us and I'm very proud to have him on our team for the next two years.”

Signing de la Rosa, is part of a plan to step up HRT’s performance, and Pérez-Sala commented, “When we took on this project in August, we thought that it was necessary to define a strategy and set some solid bases and Pedro was a key factor for this project to be viable. He is a driver with a lot of talent and his experience of over 12 years in F1 will help us to grow in the right path.”

Saúl Ruiz de Marcos, HRT F1 Team CEO, agreed, “Since we arrived a few months ago, one of the pillars upon which we wanted to base the project was having Pedro on the team. From day one we got straight down to work to try and convince him and after four months of negotiations I am very proud to have achieved it.” And about the future he said, “We are on the right path, taking every step at a time and turning the project we had in mind at the beginning into reality. We are working discretely, with humility and analysis and every decision made has been premeditated to ensure that it is correct. I think we are on the right track to becoming a great Spanish team in one year's time.”

And that concludes this week’s On and Off Track, Kubica wants to return to Formula One but can’t, Barrichello is desperate to stay in the sport and after 19 years even has to find sponsors to start his 20th consecutive year in Formula One, while at the same de la Rosa had to be convinced to make his racing return for HRT, who already surprised by beating Marussia Virgin this season.

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

Formula One - On and Off Track week 46

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Pedro de la Rosa , Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , Kimi Raikkonen , Ayrton Senna , Luis Perez-Sala , Giedo van der Garde , Robert Kubica , Frank Williams , Pastor Maldonado , Adrian Sutil , Valtteri Bottas , Martin Whitmarsh
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , McLaren , Williams
Tags barrichello, bouman, de la rosa, featured, hrt, kubica, lotus renault, williams