Robert Kubica might have seen his chances of continuing to fight for the 2008 Formula 1 Drivers' World Championship crown take a knock as he missed the top ten qualifying shoot-out for only the second time all year in Shanghai – but he has promised he will certainly not be giving up.
The Pole – who has been the architect of a superb, ultra-consistent season to keep himself in the title frame by dint of repeatedly transcending the capabilities of a car that is arguably no longer even the third-quickest on the F1 grid – may have seen his challenge dealt a terminal blow ahead of Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix.
Balance problems weekend-long put the Canadian Grand Prix winner on the back foot ahead of qualifying, and it showed as he toiled woefully, rarely getting close to the pace of team-mate Nick Heidfeld as he wound up just twelfth-fastest, little under a tenth of a second shy of graduating to Q3 and promoted to eleventh spot only by Mark Webber's engine change-induced demotion.
“A very disappointing qualifying!” the 23-year-old bemoaned afterwards. “I was struggling with the balance of the car all weekend. We made some changes before qualifying, but they had a negative effect.
“All-in-all it was not the best move; we had nothing to lose so we had to try, but it just made the situation worse. The car was difficult to drive and I couldn't push as I wanted. I expect a tough race because now we are not allowed to change the set-up.”
Be that as it may, Kubica is a fighter, and the last time he began outside the top ten on the starting grid – in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza last month – he went on to finish third. Sitting twelve points shy of the championship lead with 20 remaining up for grabs, he is bidding to follow in the wheeltracks of both Mike Hawthorn and Keke Rosberg, who claimed the drivers' laurels in 1958 and 1982 respectively despite notching up just a single victory along the way. The message is clear – discount Robert Kubica at your peril.
“Formula 1 can change very quickly,” the man from Kraków is quoted as having said by The Associated Press
, “and you just have to push and never give up. I'm pleased at what we've done, the season is still not over yet and we just have to keep pushing.
“There are two drivers in front. If I want to continue to fight, I need to [finish] second twice at the least, but lately we're not getting such good results with our pace.
“I have been in better situations this year, but I have been in worse situations too. We just have to try.”
There was further bad news for BMW-Sauber with Heidfeld being penalised three positions from sixth place for having been deemed to have baulked David Coulthard in the dying moments of Q1 [see separate story – click here
], meaning the experienced German – who had set the outright pace during morning free practice – lost what would have been his best grid position since Spa-Francorchamps.