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Views from F1 paddock on Kubica's accident – and future

11 February 2011

Debate has raged over the past week as to just what F1 drivers should and should not be permitted to do in the way of dangerous extra-curricular activities following Robert Kubica's high-speed rallying crash that has sidelined the Pole for what looks set to be the majority if not all of the 2011 world championship campaign – and here are some views from inside the paddock.

There are those that contend that to let its lead driver indulge in such a risky past-time was suicidal on the part of Kubica's employer Lotus Renault GP, and that the 26-year-old himself should have had more common sense, particularly being on the verge of what was looking to be the best season of his top flight career with the striking, innovative new R31.

The Enstone-based outfit's team principal Eric Boullier has adopted a 'not guilty, m'lud' stance, but many have accused the Frenchman of being short-sighted and claim that he should have reined in Kubica's eagerness to go rallying. Others, though, recognise that in an ear of limited testing, drivers still need to find some kind of winter-time adrenaline 'fix' and need to keep themselves race-fit, and argue that there is more chance of being knocked down going to buy a loaf of bread, as Boullier put it.

And as to the future, what kind of impact do the experts reckon the accident will have on Robert's future in F1? He has already expressed a desire to rejoin the grand prix grid before the forthcoming season it out – but will he come back the same driver as before?

Here is what they have to say...

Lewis Hamilton – F1 rival:

“I've raced against Robert on many occasions, and he is a fantastic driver and a great guy to race against – very tough, but fair and somebody you can always trust. I was extremely concerned when I heard about his accident. My thoughts really go out to him, and I hope and pray that he'll be able to make a full and speedy recovery and that he'll be back racing with us all very soon.”


Mark Webber – F1 rival:

“Compared to Robert, I had a scratched finger,” the Red Bull Racing star told Auto Motor und Sport, referring to his own recent leg and shoulder-breaking mountain-biking falls. “Our perception of risk is different to normal people.

“First of all, Robert should thank his lucky stars; to survive something like that is already a gift from God. From now, it will be about the head. He is going to go through the ups-and-downs, because after three good days of training you have a bad one and you wonder if it's all going to pay off. He has to be patient, which for a racing driver is exactly the worst thing – we are hyperactive and he will want to see progress every day, as we do with our jobs. He just has to give it the time it needs.”


Timo Glock – F1 rival:

“I was on my way to the airport when I got the message that Robert had had his crash, and when I got off the 'plane I got the message that it looked pretty bad. I know him well from my BMW days when I was a test driver there, and I hope he is back as soon as possible.

“I had a chance with Toyota to drive a World Rally Championship car in 2009 on a hill climb in Germany. It was a fun event, and Toyota were fine with it. It's difficult to stop racing drivers jumping in other cars. Rally driving is fascinating, and I had another chance to do it at Goodwood, too. It's so much fun and requires so much car control. If you have the chance to drive a car like that, you want to do it again.

“I can understand why Robert did it, and it's not a bad thing to drive different cars – it keeps your skills alive whilst you aren't racing over the winter. For him, it was just the wrong moment and the wrong situation. If I had another chance to drive a rally car now or whatever, I would think about it twice, but to stay fit you have to go running or jump on your bike – and if someone runs you over, you're in the same situation. Robert was just unlucky in that situation, and it was unfortunate that the Armco came into the car like it did.”


Jérôme d'Ambrosio – F1 rival and former karting sparring partner:

“Robert is a great mate of mine, and I just wish him all the best. It's never nice to hear news like that. Hopefully he will be back in the car as soon as possible.”


John Booth – Virgin Racing team principal:

“I worked with Robert in Macau in 2004, and he showed himself to be a fantastic racing driver but even more importantly a fantastic young man. He has been a good friend for many years, and we all feel gutted and wish him all the best for the future. He's a lovely chap, and I wish him all the best for a speedy recovery.

“[F1 drivers] are young, competitive fellas, and sometimes they are going to get themselves into a bit of a scrape. Unfortunately, the consequences in this case have been pretty high – but you can't wrap them in cotton wool and you can't stop them doing things. Their whole nature is that they want to push all the time.”


Martin Brundle – BBC F1 commentator and former F1 driver:

“I think in the middle of these key four weeks of testing, I'm sure Renault will now look back and say that it wasn't from a common sense point-of-view the right thing to do. I admire the man for just desperately needing to drive something fast at every possible opportunity, but I think maybe his manager and his team boss should have somehow stopped him from doing it and saved him from himself in that respect.

“Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but when you look at that rally course and you see the perils from that camera car that followed him up, you realise it was a pretty risky event to do. I'm just really sad for Robert, because he is very close to being the very best driver in F1, and let's hope he finds some strength to get back in the car. I'm sure mentally, he'll be straight back in the thing, but physically, let's hope it fixes and he doesn't lose too much of his general condition so that we can see him again in a few months' time – but you'll never convince me that it was a smart thing to do in-between two critical tests.”


David Coulthard – BBC F1 commentator and former F1 driver:

“Within my McLaren contract, there was never anything that said that I wasn't able to go skiing or whatever – 'They just said they'd stop paying you if you didn't drive the car, that's how they fixed it eventually!' Brundle chimes in – but I took a professional view that although I went skiing and actually went skiing with Ron [Dennis] several times, I just didn't do it at a level where I would have put myself at any form or risk. Of course, you can fall over and twist your knee or whatever skiing, in the same way that you can twist your ankle crossing the street, but I think you've got to be professional and try and minimise the chance of anything going wrong.”


Ted Kravitz – BBC F1 pit-lane reporter:

“I think they would have risked annoying Kubica by telling him not to do it. It's a bit leaning on hindsight to say they should never have let him do it. I think potentially, maybe they should have given him a bigger car, or maybe they should have allowed him to do the Monte Carlo Rally, which he was originally down to do, but he couldn't get a car for it or Renault couldn't sort a car or whatever. That's a more established rally; it doesn't have bits of Armco sticking out in precarious places.

“If you've watched the video of the on-board of that stage in particular, you'll see it's a small, small road and it's not up to WRC safety standards. Yes, if you want to go into the recriminations business, maybe he should have done a more established rally where firemen would have had the cutting gear available and he wouldn't have had to wait three-quarters of an hour, but it was a freak accident and ultimately it's a bit pointless to say 'he shouldn't have' – it happened, and they're moving on.

“[F1 drivers] need to stay race-sharp, and a lot of them go off and do go-karting, which has its own dangers. Robert is very determined. He was a passenger in a car crash in 2003 when he was racing in F3, and he came back from that. I've interviewed him many times, and when you look at him, you can see these huge scars on his arm where he's had titanium plates put in. I do hope he can come back, and I'm sure he has the determination to come back from this.

“It sounds like he was in great hands, literally, with the hand surgeon that he had. Each bone in his hand was broken in at least two places – that's absolutely staggering. If he can't get the full motor control with his right hand, he can do an old Jacques Villeneuve and change up and down with the same hand – all he needs is to have the strength to hold onto the steering wheel. I'd be very surprised if he didn't come back as strong as ever.”


Lee McKenzie – BBC F1 pit-lane reporter:

“I think hindsight is a wonderful thing. When you get into that testing programme, I would imagine that maybe that is the time for it (the rallying) to stop and to concentrate on one genre of motorsport and stick to it, but there have been so many F1 drivers in the past that have been entering Arctic rallies and things under different names.

“I think that was something that Kimi [Raikkonen] used to do quite a lot, so do you be upfront and honest about it, or do you just [keep quiet and] risk a total ban? You'd hope that Robert was a sensible enough guy that he wouldn't be going undercover – but if he'd finished the rally and then gone testing this week, we wouldn't be discussing this.

“There's a lot of speculation at this time, and you just absolutely hope that he will get back. On the same day, there were comments that he might not get back until next year and then someone said he might get back by Spain, which would be ridiculous – I cannot see how that would happen. It's not just bones, it's tendons and everything else that goes with it.

“He is a really tough guy, that's one thing, and spending time with him or interviewing him, days in Monaco watching him train on the beach and things like that, he is hard as nails. He's got that sort-of real Eastern European clout about him, and I do think that physically if anyone will be able to do it, it will be him.

“You saw that towards the end of last year, and even in Monaco, that he was dragging round that underperforming car as it were and really getting the best out of it. There was this idea that Renault was an Alonso team and all that sort of thing, and I think Robert disproved that. The team love him – that's the other thing. The guys in the garage were really working well with him; they respected his views and they didn't see him as a challenging person, they just really enjoyed working with him, so they'll be desperate for him to get back as well.”


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