Five drivers will head into the final three races of the F1 2010 World Championship campaign in with a shot of clinching the coveted crown – two of them for the first time in their career. Whilst any one of them would beyond doubt be a deserving title-winner, it is eminently arguable that there is another competitor who has outshone them all over the course of the past seven months. His name is Robert Kubica.
Always highly-rated right from the moment he first joined the grand prix grid with BMW-Sauber just over four years ago – going on to brilliantly achieve a podium finish in only his third appearance, the 2006 Italian Grand Prix at Monza – Kubica has never really had the equipment to fully do justice to his undoubted potential, but what he has invariably done is outperform what he has had at his disposal.
Ultra-consistent in 2007, the first Pole ever to compete in the top flight was superb in 2008, and if his fortunes and form took a dip last season as BMW struggled to maintain its erstwhile upward momentum, the man from Kraków has been magnificent in 2010 – and here's why.
Back at the beginning of the year, the Renault R30 – its striking livery evoking affectionate memories of the legendary 'Yellow Teapot' of the late 1970s – was no better than the fifth-best car in the field, behind Red Bull Racing, McLaren-Mercedes, Ferrari and Mercedes Grand Prix, and yet Kubica hauled it around the streets of Albert Park to take a brilliant second position in the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, punching considerably above the weight of what was underneath him.
There was another rostrum finish in Monaco a month-and-a-half later, as one of F1's most prominent 'street fighters' again excelled around one of the sport's true drivers' tracks – and one where every tiny mistake is punished with interest. But then, Robert scarcely makes mistakes. By the same token, third place in Belgium was a clear demonstration of how raw talent can overcome the deficiencies of machinery when the occasion presents itself – and it is just such talent of which world champions are made.
It is no coincidence that – having never once failed to make the top ten on the starting grid this season – Kubica's three truly stand-out performances came at Monaco, Spa-Francorchamps and Suzuka, by common consent the three most challenging and demanding circuits on the calendar. It has almost been poetry to watch as the 25-year-old has made his car dance as it teeters on the very brink of aerodynamic adhesion, before producing a lap time that puts the R30 in the kind of grid position and amongst exalted company where it has no real right to be. As a marker, whilst the #11 Renault lined up respectively second, third and third in the aforementioned races, the sister #12 of Vitaly Petrov – who may be an F1 rookie, but is certainly no slouch – has started from 14th, 23rd and 13th...
Indeed, the gap between the pair has been part of the reason behind Renault's ongoing reluctance to agree to a contract extension for the young Russian into 2011, with the so-called 'Vyborg Rocket' trailing his team-mate 15-1 in the qualifying stakes and by 19 points to a staggering 114, with Robert's supreme consistency seeing him take the chequered flag inside the top ten in twelve of the 13 grands prix that he has finished.
It is clear that the Genii Capital-owned operation holds its number one driver in extremely high esteem, and technical director James Allison has waxed lyrical about Kubica, describing him as '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' and asserting that 'if we can give him a car that's even half-capable of getting a championship, he'll get one' [see separate story – click here
So well is Robert regarded, that his name has frequently been linked with Ferrari – and, indeed, he is still being mooted as a possible replacement for Felipe Massa next year, should the under-fire and under-pressure Brazilian fail to sufficiently pull his socks up over the remaining three outings of the current campaign – and the fact that he spent some of his formative career racing and living in Italy surely does his chances no harm.
To his credit, however, the former World Series by Renault Champion seems content and committed to the cause just where he is, palpably flourishing in the new atmosphere in the post-Flavio Briatore era – with Eric Boullier espousing openness and optimism, replacing the somewhat poisonous, back-stabbing fear that seemed to permeate the corridors of Enstone between 2007 and 2009 – and if he still only has one victory to his credit to-date, then the team's ambitious plans for the future will assuredly soon change that.
He may not be in the mix for the ultimate prize in 2010, but make no mistake, that Robert Kubica is an F1 World Champion in-waiting is indubitable, for he is a very special talent indeed. Shy, quiet and introspective, he might not be the most charismatic figure in the paddock in the mould of a Fernando Alonso or a Mark Webber, but no matter, for he does his talking on the track – and what he is at the end of the day, is a bloody good racing driver on the cusp of becoming a great one.