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David Coulthard on Robert Kubica's chances of a comeback

David Coulthard
By David Coulthard
BBC F1 analyst

Robert Kubica and David Coulthard on the podium after the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix
Coulthard was on the podium when Kubica won his sole grand prix

Robert Kubica is an extremely talented driver and one of the most likeable and respected guys in the paddock so I hope he makes a successful return to Formula 1.

When that happens is not yet certain but the injury to his right hand is severe.

The challenge for him as he embarks upon making a comeback is to understand what damage there is to the parts of his body that control the fine motor skills you need in your hand to drive an F1 car on the limit.

Hand grip and lower-arm strength are very important in a grand prix car because your body is strapped very firmly into the chassis.

The real skill of the driver is in how delicate he can be with his feet and how precise and reactive he can be with his hands.

I don't know specifically what injuries Robert has suffered but as an absolute minimum he needs to be able to have the motor skills and strength to grip the steering wheel at high loads - cornering forces in a grand prix car are up to 5G - and make the fine adjustments needed to control it.

The cars have power steering, but you need a lot of endurance strength to keep hold of the wheel over race distance. Your hands do fatigue, and if you're heading into a high-speed corner, you squeeze the wheel before you commit to the corner.

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It's not like he's doing a strength test hanging off a pole over a pool of piranhas and hand strength can vary from individual to individual. However he certainly needs to have the strength to push into the steering wheel to hold himself in place in high-speed corners.

That was a technique I used. I'd lean my elbow on the side of the cockpit and use that as a sort of leverage anchor point.

You would force your thumb and hand up into the steering wheel to lock it into position, because making small adjustments to the steering at 160mph through a corner like Spa's Pouhon is extremely difficult to do.

That's because there is so much movement within the tyre and the car itself, you just want to get it on to the right trajectory. If you need to make a small adjustment it would be with the throttle so, in the high-speed corners, it's about committing and holding on. The big steering inputs come in the medium and slow-speed corners, where it's about being able to feel what the car is doing and being able to make those fine adjustments.

Robert Kubica is taken to hospital after his rally crash on Sunday
Kubica suffered severe hand injuries as well as arm and leg fractures

You hold the car in the palm of your hand, the fingers are there to maintain the hand in place and it's the sense of load on your hand that's important.

You need to be able to feel the weight of the steering, because that becomes a guide as to how much grip there is.

When you're controlling the car on the limit, there will be a feeling in your hands and arms; you expect it to feel a certain weight.

If you hit a patch of oil, say, that steering weight reduces significantly and even before the car has started to understeer or oversteer you have started to make a correction.

A racing driver also needs his finger tips for adjusting the knobs and dials on the steering wheel and pulling the gear-change paddle - although there is nothing in the regulations that says it has to be knobs and dials and a paddle, it could be any kind of mechanism that the driver uses to initiate a gear change.

If Robert's able to hold a reasonable weight out front of his body and rotate and move it around at arms' length, I'm sure he'll be able to get back into a race car and do his thing.

He'll need a lot of determination to make a comeback, but he has already proved he's got plenty of that.

If you were putting together your own team, Kubica would be on a very short list of first-pick guys

The fact that he is the first driver from Poland to make it into F1 says a lot. He left home when he was very young, moved to Italy to race and made a number of sacrifices to get where he is.

Fundamentally, though, his comeback depends on whether he gets back the functionality of his arm.

If he's able to get his grip back, I don't see why he can't come back and drive, because the rest of the arm is just bone and muscle.

Robert is universally respected by his peers and extremely well liked in the paddock - as opposed to some drivers who are respected and maybe liked by a few.

In Grand Prix Drivers' Association meetings, which is where drivers get a chance to interact with each other, Robert is always one of the first to get there with a serious point and/or one of the first to get there with humour as well.

From knowing him as a fellow driver to now working for the BBC, he's always great to work with. He knows the environment he is in is a privileged one. He's approachable, there's no element of being a superstar with him, he's just professional.

Robert Kubica, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton
Kubica is regarded as among the very best drivers in F1

He's an extremely likeable chap. He's also an extremely talented driver, one of the very best.

Robert might only have won one grand prix so far but everything in his short grand prix career would suggest he is worthy of being held in the same regard as the five world champions on the grid - Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.

And if you were putting together your own team, Kubica would be on a very short list of first-pick guys.

The only question mark over him is that there have been a number of drivers who have shown fantastic potential and then, when it's come to the pressure of having a world championship-winning car, something has triggered that hasn't allowed them to exploit that potential in the way they were in a slightly under-performing car.

I don't think Robert is one of those guys but that's just a gut feeling, as opposed to any form of crystal ball.

I just hope he makes a complete recovery so we can see him back in F1 and find out for sure.

David Coulthard won 13 grands prix in a 15-year Formula 1 career, in which he drove for Williams, McLaren and Red Bull. He has been a BBC broadcaster since 2009. He was talking to Andrew Benson



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see also
Kubica requires further surgery
08 Feb 11 |  Formula 1
Kubica career at risk after crash
07 Feb 11 |  Formula 1
Kubica sets test pace for Renault
03 Feb 11 |  Formula 1
Robert Kubica profile
19 Nov 10 |  Drivers & Teams


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