Robert Kubica has sought to play down suggestions that a resurgent Renault will be able to vie for victories later on in F1 2010 off the back of his stunning Monaco Grand Prix form last weekend – though he did concede the team might unexpectedly shine again in places like Hungary and Canada, scene of his breakthrough victory at the highest level two years ago.
Kubica stunned observers – and even his own team and perhaps himself into the bargain – with second on the grid around the narrow, tortuous streets of the glamorous Principality, having for some time looked like stealing pole position from right under the noses of Red Bull Racing.
Whilst he was unable to get the better of the two energy drinks-backed machines on race day – with a slightly tardy getaway when the starting lights went out enabling Sebastian Vettel to leapfrog him from P3 – the Pole went on to give dogged chase all afternoon, and his second podium finish in Monte Carlo was just reward.
“I always knew that starting from the first row on the dirty side would be difficult for me,” he acknowledged. “The plan was to defend second place, but when I saw Mark [Webber] was slow pulling away from the box I thought I might have the chance to overtake. I was maybe too optimistic on the throttle and got a lot of wheelspin. It was too late to close the door to Sebastian, and then I had to defend from Felipe [Massa], so overall I lost position. I took the risk; it didn't work, but if you don't take a chance, you won't know if you can make it.
“I was able to keep up with the pace of Sebastian. Actually I think we were a bit quicker, especially after the re-starts. On 'Prime' tyres I think our pace was just slightly better than on 'Options'. Then, [with] 30 laps to go before the last safety car I came into Turn One and got the front locked up. I had a big flat-spot on the inside wheel, so I had huge vibrations and I was really scared that I might [have to] pit again and change front tyres. I couldn't see even the pit board and it was really difficult to see the braking-points. I was just controlling it so it didn't get worse.
“I was surprised about our pace. When I saw that the tyres were handling well, although the visibility was not great, I was able to keep up the pace to Sebastian and control Felipe behind. There was no real chance [to overtake] unless Sebastian made a mistake, but he didn't, so I was never really close and in Monaco it is nearly impossible to overtake especially if you are a bit slower than the front two guys – but with third place, we have to be positive. I think no-one was expecting us to finish on the podium here. We were up there at the front all weekend, so congratulations to all the guys and to Renault for three spots on the podium as engine-supplier.”
Kubica's outstanding pace and consistency this year have not only won him the hearts of all of his colleagues at Enstone, but they have also left the Kraków native equal-sixth in the points heading next to Istanbul for the Turkish Grand Prix at the end of the month, level with McLaren-Mercedes Lewis Hamilton and only 19 markers shy of the lead. Given that he is driving a car that is fifth-quickest at best, that is a remarkable accomplishment – but the 25-year-old cautions against raising the bar too high over the balance of the campaign.
“For sure, we were more competitive here than we were on the other circuits,” he reflected, “but on the other hand we hope to be in the position to fight for another podium in the remaining races. I think that today, on normal race tracks, we are not in a position [to do so], but some nice tracks are coming like Hungary, like Canada where I think our car can do well. I think we can be strong in Canada, as it will suit our downforce level better, so we hope to be at least as competitive as we were here.
“I think for this year, winning races will be extremely difficult. Of course, in Formula 1 everything is possible, but we have to wait and see. In reality, I think the gap to the Red Bulls, especially, is much bigger than it was here this weekend. I think Monaco was one of the tracks which suited our car best, our characteristics, so we will see. For sure there will be some opportunities.