Renault insists that Robert Kubica is not in the frame for a race seat this year, with the French car manufacturer adamant that the Hungary test is purely to evaluate whether or not the Pole can make a Formula 1 comeback in 2018.
Kubica has been handed a first opportunity to try out a current-spec F1 car in the post-Hungarian GP test next week, with the move having fuelled speculation that he could be drafted in as a replacement for Jolyon Palmer later in the year.
There have even been reports that Kubica could make an F1 return as early as the Belgian Grand Prix next month.
But Renault managing director Cyril Abiteboul has dismissed such talk – confirming that Palmer will retain his seat after the summer break and that Kubica’s run is only aimed at getting answers about his physical capabilities for a potential 2018 return.
“We continue to support Jo – and there is absolutely no change of plan,” Abiteboul told Motorsport.com ahead of the Hungarian GP weekend.
“It is true that with Robert we feel we need to investigate a little bit further after all the tests we have done. Obviously there have been the tests we did with the 2012 car, but also we have done other things – medical checks and simulator work that I don’t really want to elaborate on.
“It is true that based on all these things up until now, we want to have a closer look about how realistically it would be for Robert to drive again in a modern F1 car, and possibly in a racing context.
“The last opportunity to at least do the test in a modern F1 car was the Hungary test, and we are taking that opportunity. But that is really something that is more medium- to long-term.
"It is not a short-term plan and it is not a short-term option to do anything with our driver line-up.”
Abiteboul was clear, too, that even if Kubica showed strong pace in the Hungary test, it was not automatic he would have a shot at a Renault seat for next year.
“Robert could be a candidate for 2018 but before we can really consider him as a candidate, it is more that we need to look – and in particular we need to see how he will cope with cars with more downforce and with more power, because clearly the car he has been driving up until now is not representative.
“Frankly, even if he does well, it does not mean immediately that we will decide to go for him for 2018 because there is more we need to look into.”
Palmer told Kubica "not an immediate threat"
Abiteboul says he has spoken to Palmer about the Kubica test, and reassured the Briton that there is no threat of him losing his seat, despite recent speculation.
“I told him [Palmer] that Robert is not an immediate threat,” added Abiteboul. “Clearly we are looking at options for 2018, and Jo could be an option for 2018. That is in his hands.
“What we are doing with Robert has nothing to do with what Jo does this weekend or even after the summer break. But there will not be any replacement of driver in Spa, as I’ve seen stories suggesting that, too.
“I can confirm that Jo will be driving in Spa – and the plan is for him to drive until the end of the season. Jo and Robert are two different aspects.”
Palmer’s hopes of scoring his first points of the year have been boosted by him getting the new Renault floor for the Hungarian Grand Prix, after the update on Nico Hulkenberg’s car helped the German to his most competitive weekend of the year at Silverstone.
Abiteboul said he hoped that Palmer could regain his confidence, and that Renault itself could avoid the kind of mechanical issues that forced the Briton out on the formation lap at the British GP.
“He needs to have confidence in himself, he needs to have confidence in the team, and he needs to have confidence in his situation to be able to score points.
"I hope and believe that the package that we will bringing in Budapest will allow the team to score points – and he should be with the team on that.
“But he has to perform like any driver who makes it to F1 has to perform. I am not going to take away the fact that there is pressure. It is a competitive environment and that is never going to go away. But it is not a short-term pressure.”
Kubica will drive the Renault next Wednesday, on the second day of the two-day Hungaroring test.