Formula One – On and Off Track, Week 5

Nancy Knapp Schilke, F1 correspondent

Story Highlights

  • Kubica back behind the wheel
  • 2012 cars in launch mode
  • Heidfeld ready for a change

Kubica back behind the wheel

Robert Kubica recently was able to take a car for a spin and while it was only a Renault Megane with an automatic gearbox, it was at least his second time behind the wheel. It has been a long time since Kubica was in the cockpit of an FIA Formula One car; exactly 363 days. He was on top of the leaderboard in the final pre-season official test on the 4th of February last year at Valencia. Driving the Lotus Renault R31, he clocked a time of 1m 13.144s.

Five days later while competing in the Ronde di Andora rally, Kubica had serious crash in his Skoda Fabia on his way to the start when he went over a raised part of the asphalt and lost control. He ended up hitting the sharp end of the guardrail that went into the cockpit of the Skoda where Kubica was sitting. At the age of 26, Kubica’s career as a racer appeared to be over. At the time, Stephane Samson – one of his consultants stated: "All we know is that Robert's life is not in danger. However, he has very severe injuries but we don't know anything more about it."

Robert Kubica, Lotus Renault GP
Robert Kubica, Lotus Renault GP

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Kubica’s manager Davide Morello later admitted the racer was at risk of losing the functionality of his right arm and hand. The fans paid tribute with banners of well wishes outside the Italian hospital, in Poland and at several of the grand prix events. After his surgery of seven hours for his right leg fractures, the main focus was on saving his right arm and hand. At the time he was put into an induced coma. "It has been a very important and difficult operation," said hand surgeon Mario Ignor Rossello. "Robert Kubica's right forearm was cut in two places, with significant lesions to the bones and the tendons. We did our best to rebuild the functions of the forearm.”

The surgeons did a remarkable job but due to his injuries, he did require further surgeries -- five in total – during his recovery. It has not been an easy road for the Pole but he never gave up despite setbacks including a recent surgery in November 2011. "The mobility of Kubica's right hand is satisfactory," Rossello said. "Robert has told me that he has already driven a car. This a miracle of his will."

The Pole had an early Christmas present when Ferrari offered a test this coming spring. He would be back in the cockpit of a Formula One car at Mugello in a 2010=specification F10 car. But as luck would have it, Kubica lost his footing when he slipped on an icy patch on the road near his home in mid-January of this year. It was the same right leg that had to be repaired after the rally crash.

Perhaps this time, the Pole will take his time and allow himself to fully recover while he continues his physiotherapy because after the news that he has taken a street car for a spin, Ferrari has hinted that Kubica will be able to attempt some laps in a F1 simulator as well as get behind the wheel of a turbocharged 2010 Ferrari and possibly, in June or July, take out the 2014-specification turbo V6 prototype. If any of the rumors come true, perhaps Kubica will be the one to take the Formula One seat of Felipe Massa in 2013 or perhaps, he might be best suited to move over to sportscar racing for the Prancing Horse team. Only time will tell.

Norbert Haug interview with Bernie Ecclestone
Norbert Haug interview with Bernie Ecclestone

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2012 cars in launch mode

Before the 2012 Formula One official first test at Jerez in Spain starts on February 7th, all but one of the teams will have unveiled their new cars. The one that is sitting out and waiting for later is Mercedes GP. It is not like they are hiding anything Norbert Haug insists. Instead the Mercedes Motorsport boss told Auto Motor und Sport: "Last year we were very early and we paid for it by having a fairly unsophisticated car. Now we have set a development schedule so that we can work on any problems before they happen.”

The Brackley-based team will showcase their W03 on February 21. In other news for the Mercedes factory team is the loss of a highly respected senior technical advisor as reports indicate Steve Clark will be with the Ferrari F1 team.

Caterham F1 was the first team to unveil their 2012 contender, the CT01. It was also the first look of the new nose that will be on all the cars this year due to the new rules. “I am thrilled that we broke cover first and that the CT01 is the first example anyone has seen of a 2012 car,” said Team Principal Tony Fernandes. Of course the team was called Team Lotus over the last few seasons but due to the court ruling, the former Renault-named team holds the rights with the Lotus Group. “”Although you can’t see it, there’s a lot on this car that’s changed.|Tim Goss|left””

About the look of the new nose, Chief Technical Officer Mike Cascoyne explained, “The regulations have changed to limit the height of the nosebox to try to ensure that noses don't get too high. Our challenge is that you always want to get the chassis as high as possible to allow clean air flow to the underside of the car, and what you see on the CT01 is our solution to that.”

Yesterday, McLaren launched their MP4-27 with Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh first speaking about their hopes for the new season: “The 2012 season will be an important one for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes: having finished second in the constructors’ championship for the past two seasons, we’re determined to mount a sustained, hard challenge for both world titles.”

McLaren’s Technical Director Paddy Lowe commented, “Our main objectives for the 2012 season were to optimise downforce despite the changes to the blown floor, and to improve our understanding and utilisation of the Pirelli tyres, which were new to us last year.” Adding to the comments was Tim Goss, director of engineering who said, “Although you can’t see it, there’s a lot on this car that’s changed. However, this year has seen more of an evolutionary set of rules, so there’s less of the unpredictability that comes from balancing resources between seasons during a time of greater regulatory change.”

The new MP4-27
The new MP4-27

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Ferrari and Force India are set to show off their latest Formula One contenders on Friday. Lotus F1 is set for the 5th while three teams will unveil their cars in the Jerez paddock on the 6th; the day before the testing action begins. They are Toro Rosso, Sauber, and the defending championship team, Red Bull. Williams will unveil their new car on Tuesday, the 7th.

Breaking news this morning: The Italian team had to forgo their hopes of showing off their new red car on Friday, February 3rd due to the wintry conditions in Maranello. The Ferrari statement: "The decision has been taken to cancel the presentation ceremony for the new car, which was to have taken place at 10.30 tomorrow. The decision was taken because of the weather conditions and because of the difficulties that would have faced the 300 or so people due to attend from the team partners, the authorities and representatives of the media in their attempts to get to Maranello."

Heidfeld ready for a change

Nick Heidfeld will take on a new challenge this year. The bad luck in Formula One appears to have run its course and the German is ready to move on. One of the top teams in sportscar racing has signed Heidfeld to aid them in their challenge at the Twelve Hours of Sebring, the Spa 6 Hour race and the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans.

While the German has not cut off his ties to Formula One and still would like to find a seat this year or in 2013, he knew that at some point in his racing career he would fulfill his desire to race again on the La Sarthe circuit in France. His one and only race at the June classic was in 1999 and even though he did not finish, he still has good memories of running in the twice-around-the-clock event. REBELLION Racing offered him the seat of the third driver in their LMP1 Toyota Lola with their World Endurance Championship full-season drivers, Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost.

Nick Heidfeld, Lotus Renault GP and Sebastien Buemi, Scuderia Toro Rosso crash
Nick Heidfeld, Lotus Renault GP and Sebastien Buemi, Scuderia Toro Rosso crash

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One must wonder if Heidfeld brought money to the team since his record in Formula One is not outstanding. Out of 183 starts, he has never won a race and has only reached the podium 13 times. His first year in the premier open-wheel racing series was in 2000 and without a doubt many were surprised to see him land the Lotus Renault ride to replace Kubica last year. He might have had the most incidents during the 2011 season than any other driver. In fact, the team replaced him with Bruno Senna before the end of the year.

Yet REBELLION Racing Team Manager Bart Hayden said, “Nick will be a valuable addition to the team, he is quick, highly-experienced, enthusiastic and very happy to be part of REBELLION Racing. We are pleased to welcome Nick to the team and are looking forward to the start of the season next month at the Sebring 12 Hours, opening round of the new FIA World Endurance Championship.”

On a final note: Sutil vs Hamilton

Is Adrian Sutil's career over? The former Force India driver was accused of assaulting Lotus team executive Eric Lux in the M1NT discotheque in Shanghai, China. Lux is co-owner of Luxembourg Investment Company Genii and co-owner of the current Lotus Formula One team led by Eric Boullier. A German court did find Sutil guilty but he was given a suspended sentence plus a fine of EU200,000. "The only positive thing is that I am now at peace with Mr. Lux. At least it's over," Sutil said.

Oddly enough before the trial, Sutil wanted to land in the cockpit of the Lotus-Renault team. Since the sentence, the German has again caused grief, this time to his former best pal in the Formula One paddock. Hamilton was next to Sutil in the nightclub the night the incident took place but the Briton declined to comment or appear in court. Hamilton's statement to the Court basically said he "could not remember the details of the scuffle".

Adrian Sutil, Force India F1 Team, Amber Lounge Fashion
Adrian Sutil, Force India F1 Team, Amber Lounge Fashion

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Said Sutil to the Bild newspaper: "Lewis is a coward. I don't want to be friends with someone like that. If you ask me he's not a man as even his father sent me a text message, wishing me the best of luck for the hearing. From Lewis, nothing. He even changed his number so I couldn't reach him." Hamilton wisely listened to the request from his team to not react or reply to questions regarding Sutil. He steered the reporters off the subject in yesterday's unveiling of McLaren's new car.

There is a slim chance that Sutil will have a ride in 2012, but he could be a test driver or reserve driver this year. He still holds his FIA superlicense.

So this ends the substitute On and Off Track commentary normally written by our Formula One writer who we are happy to report may be released from the hospital next week. Berthold Bouman will hopefully return in time for the Australian Grand Prix.

Please see last week’s article: Formula One – On and Off Track, Week 4

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Nick Heidfeld , Norbert Haug , Felipe Massa , Bart Hayden , Neel Jani , Robert Kubica , Eric Lux , Bruno Senna , Adrian Sutil , Sébastien Buemi , Nicolas Prost , Bernie Ecclestone , Steve Clark , Martin Whitmarsh
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Team Lotus , Sauber , McLaren , Force India , Toro Rosso , Williams , Lotus F1 Team , Caterham F1
Tags button, caterham, featured, hamilton, heidfeld, kubica, mclaren, renault, schilke