Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Driver File: Robert Kubica

BMW-Sauber's Robert Kubica is the first Polish racing driver to compete in Formula One and my goodness he is mighty quick. His rise to stardom has been very quick and almost came out of nowhere. In late 2001, he was selected as a Renault development driver which paralleled their return to Formula One as a full manufacturer.

As Kubica developed a successful career in lower formula, it appeared that he had his first shot at participating in a Formula One Grand Prix in 2005 with Minardi at the Chinese Grand Prix as the team's third driver. However, it was not to be as Kubica did not have a superlicense and did not have the necessary testing mileage. Nevertheless, the wait would not be long for Kubica. After some testing with Renault, BMW-Sauber signed Robert as their test and reserve driver for the 2006 season. He would get an opportunity to drive the Formula One car at Grand Prix during practice sessions. During the signing, BMW Motorsport director Mario Theissen said, "we have been following Robert's progress and are very impressed by his performance in recent years. He has worked hard to achieve his success without major support. We are convinced that he has the potential and the will to make the leap into Formula One and are delighted to be able to give him the opportunity to do so. As the number three driver he will gain experience while at the same time helping the team develop the car."

Well, Theissen's words could not be more prophetic. After running as 3rd driver during part of the 2006 season, BMW-Sauber gave Kubica his racing opportunity when they replaced 1997 F1 Champion, Jacques Villeneuve due to ill effects suffered by Villeneuve in a crash. Kubica did not disappoint as he burst on the scene in beautiful fashion in a chaotic and memorable Hungarian Grand Prix, where he outqualified his more experienced teammate Nick Heidfeld. Although he was disqualified for being underweight after finishing 7th, it was clear that Kubica had the speed and talent to be a top level Formula One driver. In his 3rd start, he finished on the podium in another memorable race, the 2006 Italian Grand Prix thus becoming the first Polish driver to lead a Grand Prix and finish on the podium. His performances seem to light a fire under veteran F1 driver and teammate, Nick Heidfeld.

2007 seemed to be more of a learning year for Kubica as he struggled some to come to grips with having to switch to Bridgestone tires from the Michelin tires he was used to. By Kubica's own admission, he was worried that the tire switch was going to be problematic for him and that he had to switch his style. Kubica was outscored 61 to 39 by his newly rejuvenated teammate.

In 2008, a more experienced Kubica seemed to take more of a leadership role in the team and had no issues dealing with the ban on traction control. He wasted no time in showing who was going to be the lead driver at BMW by putting his car on the front row in the Australian Grand Prix. He secured the first ever pole position for BMW-Sauber in Bahrain becoming the first Polish driver to achieve a pole position. Then, he secured BMW and his first ever Formula One win at the Canadian Grand Prix. Kubica has run over his teammate Nick Heidfeld in qualifying and currently sits 3rd in the World Championship Standings. Kubica looks ready to be really be number 1 material. BMW has recently confirmed that they are speaking with double World Champion and current Renault driver, Fernando Alonso and Kubica says he will welcome Alonso. Given Kubica's development I would say Kubica is not near his peak. Even with the potential addition of Alonso, Kubica can take on any challenge.

Next Driver File: McLaren's Hekki Kovalainen.

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