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Kubica in pole position for title tilt


Kubica is hopeful BMW will allow him to live up to his burgeoning reputation

By Sarah Holt

With his unassuming personality and gangly frame, Robert Kubica hardly exudes the star quality of his long-time rival Lewis Hamilton.

But there is an undeniable buzz about the BMW Sauber driver at the start of the new Formula 1 season - the 24-year-old Pole is widely expected to stake a serious claim to Hamilton's crown in 2009.

Kubica laid down his marker in a defining 2008 season, claiming a maiden Grand Prix victory in Canada and leading the championship for 14 days.

Now, both Kubica and BMW Sauber have declared their intention to fight full out for the championship - and worryingly for their rivals the team usually get what they want.

"When we founded the team in 2006 we set out our lists of targets," team principal Mario Theissen explained to BBC Sport.

I was leading the championship but in the end it does not matter - what matters is to win the championship

Robert Kubica

"To be on the podium in 2007, to win the first race in 2008 and to win the first championship from 2009.

"We have achieved all our targets so far, so it's clear what we have on the agenda this year."

BMW and Kubica might even have got there a year ahead of schedule had the team not stuck quite so rigidly to their plan.

After winning the seventh race of the season in Montreal, Kubica's title challenge was undermined by Theissen's decision to immediately refocus the team's development on the 2009 car.

Kubica was stung by the decision - and it led to some widely publicised criticism of the team by their star driver.

He is in a more conciliatory mood now, but clearly the decision still smarts.

Robert Kubica in the BMW Sauber F1.09
BMW's car is not the most attractive but it has been quick this winter

"Last year I was pushing to fight until the end because I may never have the chance again," Kubica told BBC Sport.

"I won the race, I was leading the championship but in the end it does not matter - what matters is to win the championship."

Kubica's manager Daniele Morelli insists the relationship between team and driver is still strong, but believes the disagreement was good, in that everyone now knows where they stand.

"Mario has now understood that Robert is a winner," says Morelli.

"He knows that if Robert is second he will go and tell him where to push and do better."

The early signs are that BMW's decision to switch their focus to tackling the vast rule changes of 2009 may prove crucial to Kubica's title tilt in the coming campaign.


While Hamilton's McLaren team were desperately off the pace during winter testing, BMW Sauber consistently kept up with Ferrari, Toyota and Renault and surprise pace-setters Brawn GP in their final test in Barcelona.

And encouragingly, in his last test run in the F1.09, Kubica rattled through a race distance with no reliability problems.

But it is not all plain sailing - the introduction of the optional kinetic energy recovery system (Kers) could derail Kubica's progress.

The system delivers drivers a boost of 80bhp for seven seconds per lap at the push of a button, but it weighs about 35kg - and for tall drivers like Kubica that is a huge disadvantage.

The extra weight takes up virtually all the leeway teams have to play with with ballast to fine-tune the performance of their car.

And the heavier the driver is, the worse this problem gets.

BMW F1 boss Mario Theissen and Robert Kubica on the podium after the Pole's victory in Canada last year
Theissen and Kubica had an up and down relationship in 2008

Kubica lost seven kilos ahead of the 2008 season but had to be persuaded to eat more by those close to him after coming dangerously close to passing out at the wheel.

This winter he has shed three kilos - more weight loss is simply not an option.

But if there are doubts about how he will be affected by such intricate technicalities, there are very few about his natural ability.

Hamilton, a rival since as far back as their karting days as teenagers, has previously named the Pole as the driver he most feared.

Kubica has a metronome-like consistency. In 2008, he claimed points in all but four races - a feat matched only by champion Hamilton.

His intelligent understanding and ability to guide the team has also impressed BMW Sauber's technical coordinator Willy Rampf.

"The feedback we get from Robert is very precise and reliable," Rampf told BBC Sport.

"He can feel all the small changes we make to the car and that is important in helping us push in the right direction."

I did not have an easy start to life as a driver because I came from a country where there wasn't a culture of motorsport

Robert Kubica on growing up in Poland

Kubica has been pushing himself full throttle towards F1 virtually all his life.

Raised in a small flat in Krakow, his father Artur gave in to his four-year-old son and bought him a little off-road car.

His parents borrowed money from the bank to fund Kubica's racing and, after winning six Polish karting titles, he went to live alone in Italy to compete in the Italian championship before moving to single-seaters.

"I learned to grow up a lot more quickly," says Kubica, who left school at 14.

"I did not have an easy start to life as a driver because I came from a country where there wasn't a culture of motorsport. It was difficult to find support - but I was lucky."

In spite of his "rags-to-riches" journey to F1, Kubica remains grounded, deliberately shying away from the media circus that accompanies the world's most glamorous sport.

"I don't fit perfectly into this F1 world," says Kubica, who prefers to spend his free time watching rallying, or playing poker, snooker or a frame 10-pin bowling.

"Many people are in F1 not for the same reason I am here. What I like about F1 has four wheels and a steering wheel."

Kubica is not looking for the distractions of pop-star girlfriends or parties to shift his focus from his quarry - the win.

"Most of the drivers are happy just to be in F1," comments Morelli. "But they are not winners.

"Robert is a winner. He isn't there to participate, he has one goal in life and that is to be first."

If BMW Sauber have got their sums right, by the end of this season he might just find he is.

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see also
Hamilton reveals hunger for title
23 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Brundle on Alonso
23 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
New rules set for 2010 - F1 boss
22 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
F1 in disarray over scoring plan
20 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Renault commit to F1 Kers system
18 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
F1 ready for racing revolution
04 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Brundle on Hamilton
04 Mar 09 |  Formula 1

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