Monaco Grand Prix in 90 seconds
By Mark Hughes
BBC F1 commentary box producer
Robert Kubica's performance in Monaco underlined yet again why he is such a hot F1 property and why he continues to attract the close interest of Ferrari.
By putting his Renault on the front row and racing it to a podium place, Kubica completely transcended the car's level.
He has done this at most of the races this year but the nature of the Monte Carlo track translated this against the clock much more effectively.
At the more conventional circuits, where a car's aerodynamics are more important, Kubica has perhaps been squeezing out an extra couple of 10ths of a second from the car's natural level.
But at Monaco, where a driver's ability to repeatedly get up close to the barriers and commit to that precision with his corner-entry speed, he was worth much more than that.
The Renault's natural position appears to be battling for a top-10 qualifying place. The difference between that and the front row at Monaco was around 0.8secs.
"We know the car is nowhere being a front-row car yet," says Renault's engineering chief Alan Permane. "It's there because of Robert."
Renault is building up its team around him and improving in leaps and bounds
Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes all had intrinsically faster cars than Renault at Monaco and even though McLaren may not have, because their car's inability to 'switch on' its tyres was a limiting factor, Kubica should not have been qualifying better than seventh.
He was superbly committed and precise, using the car's stability to lean to an outrageous degree on the outer front tyre on the entry to a corner and maintaining that momentum all the way through to the exit barriers which he would shave by millimetres.
Pretty much every driver was able to do this at some stage in the Monaco weekend but only Kubica seemed to be able to do it on every corner for every lap without a hint of an error.
The Renault's consistency allowed him to get into a superb rhythm and the lack of ultimate downforce was not as significant as its good balance.
The team was delighted with the result, but one wonders if actually a win might have been possible.
In the final part of qualifying, Kubica and the team decided to do the conventional two runs on fresh tyres, whereas others - including pole-setter Mark Webber - opted to do just one multi-lap run, reasoning that the super-soft tyre was taking as long as three, even four, laps to get to its peak.
It was on Webber's third and fourth laps that he shaded Kubica's best, so did the Pole opt for the wrong tyre strategy? And, with track position counting for everything, did missing out on pole also cost him the win?
Team-mate Vitaly Petrov, before he crashed out of the second qualifying session, was doing his best times at the end of multiple-lap runs, but he was lapping between 0.5-1.0secs slower than Kubica.
It's likely, however, that at Kubica's pace the best of the new tyres was used up after two flying laps. Certainly, he felt so.
"On my last lap, I did a purple [fastest] sector one time but by the end of that lap my tyres were losing grip in the last sector," he said.
Gamble at start didn't pay-off - Kubica
The Renault's ability to instantly turn on its tyres played its part in Kubica being so consistently quick. That was probably incompatible with it being able to squeeze a third or fourth 'golden grip' new tyre lap.
In other words, Webber's method was probably best for the Red Bull, Kubica's for the Renault.
All of this will only increase Ferrari's interest in Kubica. He was approached by them as a stand-in after Felipe Massa was injured last year and now he is being looked at as a possible Massa replacement. It's easy to see why but it's not obvious whether Kubica would or should take up any offer to go there.
Renault is building up its team around him and improving in leaps and bounds.
Kubica is very much part of a renewed spirit within the team and there is a feeling they just might be able to build this into something special, a team where a second place on the grid and third in the race might count as a disappointing weekend rather than a thrilling one.
Mark Hughes has been an F1 journalist for more than 10 years. He is the award-winning author of several books.