By Alan Baldwin
BARCELONA (Reuters) – Robert Kubica will be taking nothing for granted in Australia next week when he makes one of the most astonishing comebacks in Formula One history.
The 34-year-old Pole might have done so once, but not since he crashed and partially severed his right forearm in a rally he had entered for fun in northern Italy before the start of the 2011 season.
It has taken eight years, with extensive surgery and considerable physical and mental adjustment, to achieve what many considered an impossible dream and to return to where he always wanted to be.
He knows how quickly dreams can disappear, however.
“We take everything for granted. And then once you don’t have it, you start realising how lucky you were,” Kubica told Reuters during testing in Spain with his struggling Williams team.
“There is nothing for granted in life. That’s how it is.”
Before the accident Kubica lived and breathed Formula One, focussing 100 percent on racing with no time for anything else, but that could not continue.
He said that, at a certain point in his recovery, he realised he had changed.
“I didn’t like any more myself as a character,” he said. “In many situations I didn’t see myself. Then I started thinking why is this? Why is this happening? Why am I different? Why do I think differently?
“If I came back to Formula One it’s because I’m different. If I were to have the same character now as 10 years ago, I would not be here.
“Before I was black or white, yes or no. Nothing in the middle.
“My accident — 15 centimetres right and nothing would have happened; 10 centimetres left and I would not be here. Maybe that’s why you start seeing that it is not black and white, and there can be something in the middle.”
Kubica’s arm is thin and twisted now, but that is not the only change to the man who won the Canadian Grand Prix with now-defunct BMW-Sauber in 2008 and was tipped to go all the way to the top.
“I’ve become more sensitive, more open, which is not necessarily good in F1. But if you are able to control your emotions, I think it can be positive,” he said.
“Many people ask me about Australia, how it will be, and honestly I have no clue. But I am not scared of it,” he added of the March 17 season-opener.
“I hope only that those emotions will give me an additional boost and not negative aspects, and if I can control them they will be only positive things.”
In 2008, Kubica finished fourth overall after briefly leading the championship.
In 2011 he was a Renault driver, but with a move to Ferrari on the cards.
Five-times world champion Lewis Hamilton said last year that Kubica was one of the most talented racers he had ever competed against. Just how competitive he can be remains an open question.
The Pole said he had to be realistic about what he and the team, last overall in 2018 and with a new car that came late to testing and was then the slowest on track, could achieve once the season starts in Melbourne.
“If you ask me if I feel confident, I will say yes, But on the other hand I know I will face situations that I didn’t face for a very long time,” he said.
“If you ask me how the first corner will be, I don’t know. But nobody knows.
“So in the end it doesn’t matter if I am nine years off or three months off racing. Nobody knows how turn one or the first lap will be. I have to concentrate on small steps, on reality and then see how I will react.”
While rivals have been welcoming, and his fans among the most evident with an enormous banner on display in the Barcelona grandstand during testing, Kubica expects no favours.
Others may hail the greatness of his comeback, but not him.
“I don’t care, honestly. I know what it took me to be back. I know for different periods what I was going through. I know how much it cost in energy and how big a challenge it will be,” he said.
“On the other hand I know there will be no discount. It’s not that I will start the race 20 seconds in front of everybody because it’s a great comeback.
“Once I am on the grid and in the car, I’m the same as the others.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Clare Fallon)