Kubica given 2nd test drive for Renault amid comeback talk
SPIELBERG, Austria (AP) Robert Kubica is set for another test drive for Renault in a bid to return to Formula One, six years after a career-threatening injury.
Kubica's heavy crash during an Italian rally race in February, 2011 left him requiring extensive surgery on his right arm. Even though he still only has limited movement in that arm, he is showing signs of getting back to a competitive level.
The 32-year-old Polish driver had a test drive for Renault last month in Spain - albeit in the Renault-powered Lotus F1 from 2012 - prompting speculation that Renault might be ready to offer him a path back to F1. In Valencia, he was faster than Renault's current reserve driver, Russia's Sergey Sirotkin.
Although Renault played down the Kubica comeback rumors at the time, Renault F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul appears to now be considering the possibility.
''Whilst the first day of testing at Valencia was no more than to let Robert get reacquainted with the feel of driving again, this second test will be to assess his capabilities to return to the highest level of competition,'' Abiteboul said in a team statement Thursday. ''This is a new phase in his personal and professional journey and we are proud to support him.''
Kubica is set to have the test run on the Paul Ricard circuit at Le Castellet in southern France, which will return to the F1 calendar next year. No date has yet been given for the test, but Abiteboul is confident it will be a further indicator of Kubica's level.
''There are still many hurdles for him to overcome,'' Abiteboul said. ''He knows better than anyone else that only his performance will determine if he can one day return to being a professional driver.''
With British driver Jolyon Palmer clearly struggling to keep up with his Renault teammate Nico Hulkenberg this season, there is increasing talk Palmer will be replaced at the end of the season - or even before. This has added to the speculation surrounding Kubica's potential return.
In a recent interview with Polish television, Kubica estimated his chances of an F1 return at 80-90 percent, confidently saying that his fitness levels were higher than when he was in F1 from 2006-2010. During that span, he secured 12 podium finishes with his quick, sometimes flashy driving, and was seen as one of the brightest talents in the sport.
But his wider love of racing saw him try his luck at rally driving, and ultimately brought a promising F1 career to a terrifying halt.
His right hand was partially severed, and he sustained further arm and leg fractures in the high-speed crash at the Ronde di Andora rally. He was trapped in the car for more than one hour and needed seven hours of treatment after being airlifted to hospital. It was initially feared he could lose his right hand.
The year before, Kubica had impressed in F1 for Renault with a second place at the Australian Grand Prix and third places in Monaco and Belgium, finishing the championship in eighth position. Two years earlier, he won the Canadian GP and was an impressive fourth overall in a consistent season with BMW Sauber.
Talk of his possible return has been met with widespread enthusiasm.
''It would be fantastic for Formula One,'' veteran Brazilian driver Felipe Massa, the 2008 F1 runner-up, said on Thursday.
Red Bull's teen driver Max Verstappen, who grew up watching Kubica, said ''he could have had a great career if he didn't have the injury,'' adding that ''it would be good to have him back, absolutely.''
But driving in the heavier 2017 F1 car, with its increased downforce and wider tires, would be more physically demanding on Kubica than the car used for testing.
''For sure it's very difficult because we don't know how his arm is, how strong it is,'' Massa said.