BBC Sport motorsport


Related BBC sites

Page last updated at 22:09 GMT, Sunday, 8 June 2008 23:09 UK

Hamilton's old rival comes good in F1

By Andrew Benson

Robert Kubica celebrates his victory in the Canadian Grand Prix
Kubica has admitted he does not look like the archetypal racing driver
Robert Kubica won his first Grand Prix on Sunday in Montreal on the same circuit as Lewis Hamilton did last year, and there is a fitting symmetry about that.

The two are old rivals from their teenage days in karts, and Hamilton has always known that Kubica would one day become a serious contender in Formula One as well.

Hamilton has already made it clear he regards the Pole as a future world champion, and Fernando Alonso goes further - he reportedly rates Kubica as the best driver on the grid.

That assessment is partly borne out by the 23-year-old Pole's astonishing consistency this season - since Australia, his results have been second, third, fourth, fourth, second, first.

Despite all that, it is fair to say Kubica has not had the same effect on the public as he has on his rivals.

Perhaps it is his low-key manner, his guttural accent, his lack of interest in self-promotion, or even his appearance - a receding hairline, prominent nose and gangly frame mean he does not, he has admitted, look like the archetypal image of a racing driver.

This year's results show how much I struggled last year - maybe more than people thought

Robert Kubica
Whatever, the 23-year-old's performance on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve went some way to illustrating just why the likes of Hamilton and Alonso hold him in such high regard - and why he will not be able to stay under the radar for much longer.

Montreal is a tough race, with unyielding walls never far away from a track that is notorious for its tendency to crumble over a Grand Prix weekend.

But as several of his rivals - including former world champion Alonso - fell prey to the slippery surface, there was not a hint of an error from Kubica as he dealt with the pressure of heading for the first Grand Prix win of his career.

As with Hamilton's maiden win in 2007, this was no easy cruise to victory.

Kubica inherited the de facto lead when Hamilton crashed into Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari in the pit lane, but by the time the first set of pit stops had played themselves out, the Pole found himself with a stop still to make and behind BMW team-mate Nick Heidfeld, who did not need to stop again.

Robert Kubica and Lewis Hamilton
Kubica and Hamilton share a healthy respect and a long rivalry
He quickly passed Heidfeld - who appeared to let him by, presumably under orders from a team wanting to maximise their chances of victory in an unpredictable race by ensuring each of their drivers played out the full potential of their strategy.

But Kubica still had to make up enough time on his team-mate to make a second stop and still retain the lead.

In such circumstances, it would have been easy for any driver - let alone one on the cusp of his first victory - to push too hard and make an error.

But Kubica showed no sign of that even when his task was made harder by being held up by Timo Glock's Toyota.

That necessitated, in Kubica's own words, "seven qualifying laps" if he was to keep the lead - and again he did exactly what was required.

This is not the first time Kubica has demonstrated the coolness, detachment and presence of mind required for success at the highest levels in F1.

His victory came a year after he suffered a quite horrendous 180mph accident in this same event.

Kubica was knocked unconscious in Canada in 2007 when his BMW Sauber barrel-rolled to a halt after he had run into the back of another car during the race.

He somehow escaped serious injury, despite the fact that the front of the car was torn off, leaving his feet exposed.

And although he missed the following race in the US on doctor's orders, he was back for the subsequent one in France, where he attacked the circuit like nothing had ever happened.

That crash in Montreal was the low point of a not particularly great 2007 for Kubica.

Robert Kubica on his way to victory in Montreal
Kubica kept his cool on a crumbling track surface in Canada
He had been stunning in 2006 when BMW drafted him in mid-season in place of Jacques Villeneuve, immediately outpacing Heidfeld and taking a podium in only his third race.

But the switch to a single tyre supplier last year hit him hard, just as it did Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and all drivers who share a similar driving style.

The lower grip levels of the spec tyre harmed those who like to turn in to a corner early, a style that demands more from the tyres than the more classical style of Hamilton if the driver is to perform at his maximum.

But it affected Kubica more than most, and he spent much of the year in the shadow of Heidfeld.

If you looked hard enough behind the results, there were several indications that Kubica had not lost it. Even so, some observers were beginning to wonder whether he was quite as good as he had initially looked.

This year, though, Kubica has put such doubts to bed, and re-established his superiority over Heidfeld.

BMW have taken another step forward, and the car's extra grip compared to last year has enabled Kubica to return to his former heights.

Nick Heidfeld, BMW motorsport director Mario Theissen and Robert Kubica on the podium after the Canadian Grand Prix
Kubica (right) has overshadowed Heidfeld (left) this season
"There were a few things that were not working properly last year and I pushed to get them fixed," Kubica said in Montreal.

"Unfortunately, we couldn't fix them during the season.

"This year's results show how much I struggled last year - maybe more than people thought."

The BMW has generally not quite been a match for Ferrari and McLaren, but it is closer than it has ever been, and Kubica has been a major force from the start of the season.

Without a decision by BMW to try to second-guess their strategy in the opening race in Melbourne, Kubica would have been second there to Hamilton. And his subsequent second place in Malaysia a week later would have put him in the lead of the world championship.

Instead, he has had to wait until now to assume that position.

It is unlikely he will hold on to it, given the superiority of the McLaren and Ferrari cars.

But Kubica's win in Canada has underlined what the likes of Hamilton and Alonso already knew - one day, Kubica is likely to be at the head of the world championship at the end of the season, too.

see also
Hamilton penalised for pits crash
08 Jun 08 |  Formula One
Kubica wins after Hamilton error
08 Jun 08 |  Formula One
The rapid rise of BMW Sauber
25 Apr 08 |  Formula One
Unscathed Kubica out of hospital
11 Jun 07 |  Formula One

related bbc links:

related internet links:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.