Robert Kubica to Williams? It’s what they’re not saying that speaks loudest.
I sat beside Paddy Lowe at a function in London last week. He had just arrived back from the tyre test in Abu Dhabi that had seen Kubica complete further running with Williams. While not expecting a definitive answer to a question about signing the Pole for 2018, I was curious to see if anything could be established from the tone of the chief technical officer’s comments.
Lowe said Kubica had no physical difficulties driving the car and the team had been impressed by his attitude and feedback. Now they wanted to study and assess his performance. Beyond that, Lowe gave little away.
I am a Kubica fan and would love to see him return. From a media point of view, it would be a remarkable comeback in terms of any sport, not just motor racing. It would also fit nicely with the deserved attention being increasingly focussed on the example and achievement of disabled athletes in all manner of disciplines.
But this is about more than creating a feel good narrative around a man widely admired and liked by his peers. Williams are not considering him for sentimental reasons any more than generating publicity for the team. The bottom line is lap time and the key question that follows on from that: Is he quick enough?
Only Williams know the true answer to a trial complicated by track conditions, tyre compounds and the time of day. You could add engine modes and fuel loads to the equation but they are likely to be as consistent as possible in the bid to make meaningful comparisons with Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin.
Nonetheless if Kubica had produced the goods, you would think at least one person within Williams would find it difficult to resist showing some sort of positive reaction, even if only a smile and a knowing wink. But there’s been none of that.
A similar response from Renault following their test a few months ago was perhaps even more telling. Here was a team with nothing but positive feelings for Kubica following their 19 races together before that terrible rally accident when the end of a crash barrier penetrated the car and almost killed him. The guys at Renault had loved a dedication that had seen Robert push the team as well as himself. If ‘Bobby K’ was good enough, surely they would have snapped him up? (This was before the appealing deal with Carlos Sainz came to fruition.)
Renault have maintained a discreet silence on the thinking behind their decision not to proceed. Kubica was certainly fit enough (a major box ticked as he ran through an entire day’s work and long stints without difficulty) and his technical input apparently remained as sharp and relevant as his relentless work ethic. He was given every opportunity in terms of tyres and setup. They wanted him to succeed. But that’s where the story seems to end.
There has been mention of cockpit evacuation presenting difficulty for Kubica when it comes to dealing with the Halo; I’m told that’s not a problem in so far as any immediate shortcoming, should it arise, could be dealt with.
That leaves us to deduce that the out-and-out speed simply was not there. Or, put another way, his ultimate pace was not good enough for a team with serious championship ambitions to take on board a 32-year-old. F1 has reached a stage where the influx of exciting new talent has even raised questions about drivers 10 years Kubica’s junior because they are no longer teenagers.
Renault at least have the consolation of a stellar line up for 2018. Williams can hardly say the same given the alternatives on the short list to accompany Stroll. You’d think Kubica would be worth a punt in such company. It could happen. But, so far, the silence is deafening.