Japanese Grand Prix in 90 seconds
By Mark Hughes
BBC F1 commentary box producer in Suzuka
Although Robert Kubica's Japanese Grand Prix lasted only a couple of laps behind the safety car, his qualifying performance emphasised again the Renault driver's claim to being a future world champion.
On the Formula 1 calendar there are only three outstanding driver's tracks - where there is scope for a great driver to transcend the level of his car. They are Monaco, Spa and Suzuka.
The remainder are 'technical tracks', where the lap-time potential is defined almost totally by the car, the difference between a great and a good driver on the stopwatch relatively small.
Renault believe Kubica would be world champion in a good car
At each of those three special tracks this year, Kubica has qualified what is otherwise a lower-top-10-level car on the front or second row.
It is confirmation of a very special talent but one that is still under-appreciated by the wider world.
It is the sort of anomaly that occurs only with very special prospects, such as: Michael Schumacher qualifying the Jordan seventh at Spa on his F1 debut in 1991; Mika Hakkinen out-qualifying Ayrton Senna the first time they were paired together at McLaren in Portugal in 1993; Senna terrorising the field at Monaco in 1984 with a car from the unfancied Toleman team; in 2001 Fernando Alonso qualifying the outclassed Minardi in places it had no right being in.
When taking into consideration the machinery at their disposal, how much they have squeezed from what they have, how few errors have been made, there is a very real case to be made for putting Kubica ahead of all the other drivers this year.
If we can give him a car that's even half capable of getting a championship he'll get one
Renault technical director
But for such status to be taken seriously, the 25-year-old Pole desperately needs a front-running car from Renault next year, something the team have not delivered since the Alonso glory days of 2005-06.
That is a long time ago now and technical director James Allison is acutely aware of the responsibility that Kubica's presence brings with it.
"If we can give him a car that's even half capable of getting a championship he'll get one," Allison said. "Not everyone in the pit lane can say that about their drivers.
"He's properly committed to being a world champion, no doubt about that. He is one of those very, very top guys where you know that if the car is not running at the front it's because of the car, not him.
"He's not only incredibly fast but you just know you can rely on him to do a fast lap when that's what's needed.
"You know he will not make mistakes when the pressure is on him and he'll plough out lap after lap after lap at a really good pace.
"He expects a lot from everyone all the time; he's positive, demanding and pushing but puts the work in himself too.
"Having a really top-flight driver like that gives you a fantastic baseline to work from.
Kubica produced another spirited drive at the previous race in Singapore
"In that regard he's similar to Fernando [Kubica's predecessor at Renault] but the area where he's different is he is more intense about it, seems more fully immersed in racing and wanting to be a champion.
"I guess Fernando had already done that but Robert is just brilliantly committed to making this team and relationship a success and helping us to drag ourselves back to where we need to be."
The Renault guys love Kubica and not only because he is fast and almost error-free but also because there is nothing he would rather be doing than sitting in the garage talking about how to make the car faster.
And if it is not that it will be regaling the mechanics with stories from his karting days or talking about the rally car he competes in as a hobby between races.
When Kubica was a BMW driver he was asked what he would like as a company car and they did not know quite how to react when he replied:
"A Mitsubishi Evo 7."
Allison is quietly confident that the team can give Kubica something more worthy of the driver's ability for next year. He puts the shortfall of this year's R30 down to key personnel losses in the aerodynamics department that have now been fully recovered.
"We also have much better tools in conceiving next year's car," he stated. "Our CFD department is now a very powerful tool and we now have a tunnel that gives us a much better and more realistic simulation to what happens on the track.
"There's a bunch of other things very helpful, such as how much quicker it speeds up and slows down than the old road.
"Although it's only two or three minutes per run, when you do as many runs as we do that stacks up to an awful lot of time and throughput is a very important thing in a tunnel.
"Our old road used to take about 30 seconds from one yaw angle to our other yaw angle, whereas this one does it in a couple of seconds and that productivity improvement is actually quite substantial.
"I see no reason why we can't be competing at the front in 2011."
That's the technical man talking. So long as the commercial side is resolved to allow that potential to be accessed, there is reason for optimism about Kubica's prospects.
The team's new ownership regime - it is effectively leased from Renault by investment group Genii Capital - has had its rocky moments this year as it adapts to life in the F1 paddock at a time of global economic restraint.
The bald fact is that Renault need a car somewhere close to as good as the Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari have been this year if Kubica is to excel at anywhere other than Monaco, Spa, and Suzuka next year.
If they fail to provide that, Kubica may reluctantly be forced to seek confirmation of his stature elsewhere.
Mark Hughes has been an F1 journalist for 10 years and is an award-winning author of several books