Robert Kubica: Back on the Formula 1 grid eight years on from near tragedy

Story highlights

Kubica fought for his life and then the use of his hand after horrific 2011 rally crash

Now he's set for his first Formula 1 race in 139 grands prix at the season opener in Australia

Williams driver describes the harrowing incident as a "life-changing moment"

CNN  — 

Eight years on, Robert Kubica remembers every moment of the crash that ended the first chapter of his Formula 1 career.

The noise of broken glass and screeching metal as he lost control driving a rally car on the eve of the 2011 F1 season and careered into a road-side barrier.

A fight for his life diminished to a fight to keep his right hand and eventually a fight to get back to F1, something he gave up on some time ago only to now find himself back on the grid for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix 139 races after his last.

But any suggestion to the Pole that even being on the grid, regardless of how competitive he might be, is a fairytale is swatted away.

“No, I just did what I had to do to achieve this,” he told CNN at the final pre-season test in Barcelona. “There’s not a lot of time and space for emotions. It’s not a fairytale but a new challenge, one of the toughest of my life. I’ll try my best and let’s see what will happen.”

The return has been slow and painful – both physically and mentally – the body recovering from a litany of injuries, not just his partially severed arm but the multiple fractures sustained in the high-speed crash.

And there has been a mental rebuild too, first to come to terms with the acceptance his F1 career was over, at least initially.

“As a racing driver, everything you do is to get to Formula 1 and one day it stops,” he said, admitting it was occasionally tough to bear as the F1 circus continued unabated.

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But he knows the outcome of the crash could have been an infinitely more dramatic one. Kubica has a penchant for self-depricating one-liners, his succinct summary of where he now finds himself simply that, “it could have been worse, I’m still here, no?”

‘A life-changing moment’

The accident has changed his life more than just his ability to turn the wheel of motorsport’s most technologically advanced cars. His hand and arm are noticeably diminished in their power of movement.

He has relived the accident countless times in his head and in a myriad of interviews, and understandably would rather look ahead rather than reflect.

Of the incident, in which fire crews took over an hour simply to cut him free, just weeks away from the start of the 2011 season and with Ferrari making inquiries about his future beyond that season, he said: “I remember it very well.

“It was a life-changing moment for me, unfortunately in a negative way but I’m not thinking about it anymore. I just think of what I can achieve right now. It’s not so much about the future but day by day.”

Kubica’s renaissance – allied with one for the once dominant Williams team for which he is racing after its nadir season in 2018 – would, despite the Pole’s reticence, be the ultimate fairy tale.

READ: Former greats Williams aim to be F1’s phoenix from the flames

But similarly he is a realist with the team’s pre-season struggles, the fact the car was not ready and missed the opening three days of testing.

“It’s not ideal but everyone in the factory has their job to do and I can only worry about my job,” he said. “Hopefully we’ve only lost three days of testing and it’s not a bigger problem. Sure, going to the first race like this is not ideal.”

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Inside the Formula One pit stop with Williams
02:48 - Source: CNN

One could argue that Kubica, his highly rated rookie teammate George Russell and the team needed all the time they could get behind the wheel ahead of Melbourne.

But continuing his diplomacy of a setback, the 34-year-old said of the delayed start to testing: “It’s better that it’s happened now, and we don’t need to dwell on it anymore. It’s a pity as you want a smooth start to the season and we could have given ourselves an easier life but I just want to help the team in whatever capacity I can.”

‘The biggest challenge of my career’

By his own admission, Williams “will not be fighting for points in Australia” but, in one sense, Kubica is simply happy to be back again.

He has aspirations of emulating his one grand prix victory in Canada in 2008, at a race where a year previously he had experienced the other most dramatic crash of his career after clipping a barrier at 300km/h.

“For sure, it’s a victory for me to come back,” he admitted. “It’s a new challenge which is actually pretty big, maybe the biggest of my career. It’s like I’m a rookie all over again.”

Has he any sense as a rookie of sorts how he will feel on the grid before the lights go out and will there be nerves? “It’s a good question and I don’t know. It’s impossible to predict but I hope there’s enough things for me to concentrate on.”

Williams have no doubts in his ability. When he tested for the team unpracticed, word is he was quicker than both Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll, the team’s racing drivers in 2018 who boasted hundreds of hours and laps behind the wheel in comparison.

There has been a warmth over his return from his former track rivals, including five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who described Kubica as “special”.

He is dismissive of such praise: “I don’t think anyone looks at me, everyone else is focused on their own race and their own rivals. For me, I have a chance to race in F1, a chance I did not think I would have. My story shows never say never.”