There was a fraction of the fans at the Hungaroring on Wednesday than the record crowd that turned out for Sunday’s Grand Prix, and yet those in attendance were all treated to something that will never be recreated: the return of Robert Kubica.
Six years after suffering career-changing injuries in a rally crash in Italy, the Pole returned to a Formula One cockpit to test this year’s Renault and, he hoped, prove he still had that special touch that marked him out as a champion of the future.
It did not start well.
With a melee unfolding in front of the Renault garage as photographers grappled to try get into place and capture the best snap of Kubica back behind the wheel – and mechanics frantically trying to move them out of the way – he made it barely two metres before hitting the garage wall with his rear wheel. The impact caused the Renault canopy to collapse onto his car, but if this was a sign or either rustiness or nerves, it did not last long.
By lunchtime the 32-year-old had already completed more than a single race distance, with the stands swelling as red and white Polish flags and Kubica-mad fans draped the grandstands, cheering him on every pass down the main straight.
Come the end of the second and final day’s testing, Kubica had completed a whopping 142 laps on his first drive in a contemporary F1 car since 2011 and, more importantly, was just one-tenth shy of Jolyon Palmer’s fastest qualifying lap with a time clocked at 1:18.572. Like riding a bike, Kubica hadn’t forgotten how to drive an F1, and that’s an ominous sign for Palmer – even if Kubica’s lap time was set on the ultra-soft Pirelli’s as opposed to Palmer’s super-softs.
Fans and racers alike are happy to see Kubica back in the paddock (Getty)
“It has been an incredible journey to this point, where I have answered many questions to myself,” Kubica said afterwards, knowing that the task was to prove not only to Renault but to himself that he is capable of a return to the sport in 2018.
“After today, it’s too early to say what the next step might be. For now, I owe a big thanks to everyone at Renault Sport F1.
“It was a fantastic feeling for me to be here today in the R.S.17 and also it was amazing to see so many fans come to see me out on track, so thank you to all of them.”
He may have been keen to play down his hopes, but this was a major step forwards toward his dream of returning to handle his unfinished business. At the time of…