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Petrov tips Kubica to return to F1

8 July 2011

As his fans wait with baited breath to see whether he will be able to reignite the F1 career stopped so brutally in its tracks when he crashed on a minor rally in northern Italy back in the winter, Robert Kubica has been tipped to rejoin the grand prix grid by Vitaly Petrov, the man he should have been racing alongside at Lotus Renault GP this year.

Kubica was looking set for a successful campaign behind the wheel of Lotus Renault GP's R31, until his accident on the Ronde di Andora close to Genoa in mid-February brought everything to a sudden and shuddering halt. With a badly-broken arm and leg and serious damage to his hand, the Pole remained in hospital for more than two months, and is now continuing his convalescence and rehabilitation at home and under the watchful eye of Dr. Riccardo Ceccarelli in Italy.

There have been contrasting statements from Lotus Renault GP and Kubica's management team as to the likelihood of the 26-year-old returning to the cockpit this season, with the former cautiously declaring that he is unlikely to race but may participate in a practice session to evaluate his condition, and the latter countering that he could rejoin the fray for the Brazilian Grand Prix finale at Interlagos in late November.

Petrov, certainly, believes the former Canadian Grand Prix-winner will resume his top flight career, and has offered an insight into his relationship with 'stand-in' team-mate Nick Heidfeld as Lotus Renault GP strives to remain ahead of a resurgent Mercedes Grand Prix in the F1 2011 constructors' standings.

“I think he still needs time to rest and to recover,” the Russian told Crash.net at last weekend's Goodwood Festival of Speed, where he admitted to being something of a kid in a sweet shop, revealing that he 'really enjoyed' looking round all the 'incredible old cars and new cars and great motorbikes' and 'would have liked to try all of them if I'd had the opportunity!' “I think Robert will come back. Nick is an experienced guy, too. I don't have any problem with him. We are doing our job, trying to improve the car and that's it, really.

“The beginning of the season was pretty good, but then suddenly we lost performance, maybe because another team improved quite a lot. In Valencia, we had been expecting to be strong, but it looks like we lost something, I don't know why. We need to analyse that and continue to work. If you look at it now, Mercedes is quite strong, they are quick, but we need to just continue working. The team is pushing and working hard to improve.”

Confessing that his wholly unanticipated but thoroughly well-deserved podium finish in the Australian Grand Prix curtain-raiser in Melbourne back in March was 'something incredible...you can't describe it', it is clear that Petrov is eager indeed to regain the rostrum as soon as possible.

Whether the 26-year-old has a chance of doing so in this weekend's British Grand Prix at Silverstone will depend much upon the effect of the FIA's off-throttle blown-exhaust ban, as he muses that 'everyone will lose, but we don't know how much we will lose compared to the others...we hope we will not lose more than other teams'. Lapping outside of the top ten in Friday's two sodden, rain-lashed free practice sessions, however, was not the most encouraging of starts.

“Today was challenging to say the least,” he reflected, “and it was obviously frustrating not to get many laps out there, especially in the second session when I only managed nine. There's not much you can do about those conditions – it's the same for all the teams! It was useful to get some more time on both the extreme wets and the intermediates, though, and I'm looking forward to making more ground tomorrow when hopefully the weather will be kinder to us. I'm still optimistic about this weekend.”

“It was typical English Silverstone weather to start the weekend,” quipped Heidfeld, quicker than Petrov in FP1 but slower in FP2, “but the positive is that the forecast says it will be drier on Sunday. I think the drier weather will certainly suit our car more, as today we were not competitive in the morning or the afternoon session.

“Practice like we saw today is very difficult, as the conditions are not consistent so it is difficult to test and evaluate parts and set-up, though we did run the wets against the intermediates and tried some small set-up changes. This was my first time on the new layout, and my impressions so far are that I preferred the old one. I'm looking forward to driving the new layout in dry conditions, which will hopefully be the case tomorrow.”

With Heidfeld and Petrov concluding the day's proceedings placed respectively 16th and 17th on the timesheets – 2.3 seconds and precisely three seconds shy of Mark Webber's benchmark for Red Bull Racing – Lotus Renault GP technical director James Allison concluded that the famously unpredictable British weather had done the Enstone-based outfit few favours.

“The track was too wet to use for some of the first session and most of the second,” he reported. “The variable conditions were very difficult for evaluations, and our car was not competitive in conditions like we saw today. We are analysing the data, but it is difficult to say if our relative lack of performance stems from our car simply being slower in the wet – as it was on both wet tyres in wet conditions in Canada – or related to the new engine-mapping rules.

“One of our newer rear wings loses downforce when cornering in the wet, so we will revert to a tried-and-tested rear wing. We seem to have difficulties getting the wet and intermediate tyres up to their working temperatures in these conditions, and we have been looking at set-up changes to improve this.”


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