Kubica says F1 comeback will only be complete if his achievements match those before the crash that nearly killed him
Robert Kubica won’t allow his mind to host flashbacks of the accident that nearly cost him his life. His remarkable renaissance wouldn’t be possible if he let fear or self-doubt interfere with his focus. He’s trained himself not to think about it.
"I’m trying to keep myself busy, so I don’t have them. True fact is I’m living not anymore with what was, but what I have now or what is possible in the future. I had many memories which was normal, and I struggled to overcome them. I struggled to see things positive but, in the end, I managed to change my approach."
Eight years ago, his life was all but perfect.
With a Grand Prix win in Canada and 12 podium finishes on his CV he’d already made his mark in Formula 1 and to such an extent that Ferrari came calling. For the man who began driving Karts as a youngster, it was of course a dream come true.
Fatefully though before dedicating his time to his new Italian employers, Kubica decided to enter one last rally, the Ronde di Andora. He embraced rallying because he loved racing, but he also believed it made him a better F1 driver.
Ironically, the race that defined him was one he intended to withdraw from. Kubica changed his mind at the last minute when he realised his team had worked so hard to get everything ready, just for him.
What happened next shows how in motorsport, on the start line you are just hours away from glory, but you are also seconds away from disaster.
He crashed. Badly. He was trapped in his car for more than an hour, had partially severed his forearm and lost a lot of blood. He suffered several other serious injuries too.
“I was living a very positive period of my life and then everything I would say, not get lost because in the end I am here, but turn around in one second, one minute, my life not only as a race driver but also as a person has changed dramatically.”
Now, incredibly, eight years, 20 operations, many desperate months and countless lonely and painful hours in the gym later, he has earnt himself another chance with Williams.
Following on from a miserable 2018, Williams has had an inauspicious start to this season. While other teams are already knee deep in testing their new cars around the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Williams have still not graced the tarmac in anger.
A bonus then that in Kubica, they certainly have a driver who possesses both patience and perspective.
Visibly he is the same slender athlete who was tearing up the F1 track a decade ago and, while impossible to disguise, he carries the lasting damage to his right arm naturally. The steering mechanism in his bespoke cockpit has had to be modified to accommodate what most would consider a career ending limitation.
But Kubica says in reality everyday life for him is more of a challenge than racing. He used to be right handed, now he’s taught himself to use his left.
"I wake every morning like this, and I have to learn. At the same time my body and my brain had to learn what I can do and what I have to do differently. Actually, the moment when I understood I cannot pretend to myself to do things exactly the same but that I can do it differently, obtaining the same results, it was the moment where something changed in my mind."
But he was happy to admit, getting to that point was not easy. "From my point of view, I have to be honest there were up and downs, there were moments where I have better days, better months or even periods when I was down."
He puts his successful return partly down to his personality. “I think passion and maybe determination and part of it can also be character. I’m not an easy guy for sure.”
Speaking to his team in Barcelona, not a single one would agree. Each of them was effusive about his collaborative, friendly nature and generosity with his time. They describe him as a man who seems well aware that a successful F1 team requires all its staff, wherever they fit in, to be at the top of their game. Like the best engine, all parts, however small must execute their function perfectly.
Clearly, not all drivers on the grid attract that kind of affection or appreciation. At worst they can be aloof, arrogant and totally self-absorbed. Kubica would be a very popular champion in the paddock.
But while still fiercely ambitious, podium places are not what Kubica is targeting right now.
"I think it is unrealistic to think we can fight for the top positions. Of course, everything can happen in the sport, it would be nice, but I’m not thinking about it. It’s too far forward. I have to move step by step. Because I have done this on a high level in the past, my goal would be to achieve the same level I was before the accident."
18 months after his crash he was back in a rally car as he set out to overcome lingering mental and physical challenges. Before long he was up to speed, in all senses of the word.
But as he gets ready to climb into his new Williams machine for testing ahead of the season opener in Australia next month, were there times when he didn’t think he’d ever return?
"I have to be honest. Yes, there were. But at the same time, I think the reason I am here is because I never closed completely the door."And what of that first Grand Prix in Melbourne, his ‘second debut’ as he calls it, will it be more emotional than his first ever F1 race? Can he stay calm and focussed given the depths he’s been to since his last outing at this level? Does he have a fear for speed?
He said: "You never know how your emotion will be when the moment arrives. In the last eight years I have been through different periods and one thing which I learnt is actually control your emotions. I have become a much more emotional person but at the same time I can control them which is good. Hopefully the Australia emotions, which will come definitely, will be something that give me an additional boost and they will not disturb my job."
If Kubica completes the race, most observers will applaud an astonishing achievement. Given the philosophy that has helped him onto the start line in the first place, Robert Kubica might even allow himself to celebrate another small step on the way to his ultimate ambition, a second Grand Prix victory, almost a decade and a life-changing experience after his first.