It has been a long and difficult road for Robert Kubica but he has finally achieved his dream of returning to the Formula One grid, having been offered a seat at Williams for the 2019 season, more than eight years since he last raced in the series.
The 33-year-old has missed what could be considered the prime of his career in motorsport’s elite competition after a horrific rally crash during the 2011 off-season left him severely injured.
After a recovery period that seems to have lasted an eternity, it was confirmed on Thursday that he has finally been handed the opportunity to make a fairytale return to F1 and will line up at Williams next season alongside British youngster George Russell.
Before his accident, Kubica was one of the most promising talents on the grid and had been tipped to join Fernando Alonso at Ferrari in 2012 as he continued to push the Renault beyond its capabilities.
But the Pole, who had already fought back from another serious crash at the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix, never made it to start of the 2011 season.
A month before the season began, Kubica hurtled into a barrier at high speed during the Ronde di Andora rally in Italy. The barrier pierced the footwell of his car and, while his co-driver escaped unscathed, it took firemen an hour to extricate Kubica from the vehicle before he was airlifted to hospital.
He suffered a sub-amputation of his right forearm as well as compound fractures to his right elbow, shoulder and leg, which required several surgeries in the following days.
After an extensive lay-off period that saw Kubica miss almost two years of competitive action, he returned to rally full-time in 2013 driving for Citroen in the European and World Rally-2 Championships.
He took part in a number of simulator tests with the Mercedes F1 team in 2014 but it was determined that the limit in the range of his arm movement meant he would not be able to drive at twisty grand prix circuits like Monaco, due to the tight confines of the cockpit – an issue he has worked on since.
In 2014 and 2015 he continued to drive competitively in the World Rally Championship, thanks to backing from Polish oil company Lotos, but that was to be his last season in the series due to a subsequent lack of funding.
Competitive action throughout 2016 was few and far between as Kubica tried his hand at endurance racing. He was signed up to compete in the World Endurance Championship in 2017 by a private LMP1 class team but the move failed to materialise, before he also tested a Formula E car but did not race.
A new beginning
Former team Renault came to the rescue midway through 2017 and Kubica began testing Formula One cars once again, impressing during 140 laps at the Hungaroring. Williams also offered him the opportunity to test that year’s car later in the season and the chance for him to get back behind the wheel in 2018 started to become a real possibility.
Again, however, it did not come to fruition, despite his experience and appetite, with Williams instead choosing Sergey Sirotkin to replace the retiring Felipe Massa. The Russian had gone faster during the testing at Abu Dhabi and also had the financial backing that made the decision a no-brainer for Williams.
During a 2018 season as the Williams test driver, Kubica has shown his capacity to go faster than both Sirotkin and Lance Stroll as he completed five separate test days and two Friday sessions.
Now it has been suggested that Sirotkin’s backers, Russian company SMP racing, may not have the expendable cash that they previously did to fund his drive.
Meanwhile, Kubica has rallied additional sponsorship from Poland, reportedly from an alternative oil firm who are willing to back him with millions of pounds.
Despite his age it’s not too late for him to make an impact in the sport with a number of drivers continuing on to their late 30s, such as 39-year-old Kimi Raikonnen, who will be with Sauber next year, and the retiring Fernando Alonso, 37.
How well Kubica does depends not only him but also the quality of a Williams car that struggled throughout 2018. It has all the makings of a fairytale, but the end of the story is not yet written.