What do you get if you combine a team coming off a nightmare 2009 and a driver who seemed to have lost his early-career spark? Answer: the most impressive package of the current Formula One season.
We are of course talking about Kubica and Renault, who, after both suffering some miserable times of late, have exploded on to F1 2010, leaving a yellow and black trail of success in their wake. Forget Red Bull and Webber- these guys have been the real standouts of the season.
Because whilst Red Bull entered this season with a development of what was a mega 2009 car, and Webber returned to the team for a fourth straight season, Renault have gone from the dog that was the R29 to an impressively quick R30, whilst Kubica has rocked up at the team and driven the wheels off his new motor. The turnaround by the team has been stunning; ditto Kubica’s driving.
The Pole joined after a lackluster 2009 with BMW, his third full campaign for the German manufacturer. Kubica was never happy to the super-cautious BMW team. More than that, it drove him crazy. He thought he had a shot at the 2008 title- and perhaps he did- but the team had already achieved their aims for season three: to win a race. The world championship was to come in 2009, and they refused to throw their weight behind an unlikely title push at the risk of compromising next season’s car. When the car in question turned out to be uncompetitive the team quickly pulled the plug on the whole operation, leaving Robert without a drive. Enter Renault.
The French team were coming off a pretty dodgy 12 months too. First there was that crash at Singapore in ’08, followed by the fallout from it the next year. 2009 itself saw the team struggle massively with a very poor car. Were it not for Fernando Alonso’s ability to get the most out of an underperforming racer they’d have come out of the year with even fewer than the 26 points they scored. Second drivers Nelson Piquet Jr and Romain Grosjean did nothing to improve the team’s points haul.
So Kubica and Renault, two big names with somewhat damaged reputations, joined forces for 2010. What were their prospects for the new season? Scrapping for smaller points? That’s certainly what testing suggested, with the team looking less impressive than Sauber, Toro Rosso, Williams and Force India in pre-season.
But when they turned up at Bahrain for the season opener things were different. Robert qualified 9th- the quickest driver outside the big four teams- but a first-corner collision saw him finish 11th. No matter- Australia held greater things. Qualifying ninth again Robert drove a superb race, bettered only by winner Jenson Button, to take 2nd. People took note. More points were to follow in Malaysia (4th) China (5th) and Spain (8th), before the F1 circus travelled to Monaco. A circuit where a skilled driver can really make an impression, this race promised much, and Robert- or Bobby K. as he’s know at the Sett- didn’t fail to deliver.
Despite the result not matching that of Australia Monaco was their most impressive race to date. Kubica was on it all weekend, hustling the Renault around the Monte Carlo streets in a blur of yellow and black. He was quick right through practice and looked set for pole until Mark Webber delivered a top-draw lap to snatch it late on. He dropped to second off the line, getting too much wheelspin as he sniffed the lead, but thereafter drove a stellar race to take third, his second podium of the season. All that leaves him level with Lewis Hamilton in 6th place in the championship. He’s ahead of both Mercedes drivers, and a whopping 53 points clear of teammate Vitaly Petrov.
We reckon F1 2010 has had two big success stories: Webber/Red Bull and Kubica/Renault, and it seems high time Bobby K. got the praise he deserves. New team boss Eric Boullier seems to feel the same, and is confident of a fruitful future for the team and Kubica.
“I am just speechless- Robert is doing a perfect job,” Boullier said after Monaco. “He is working very well with the team and likes the team spirit as well. This team has won championships so they know how to race and how to be successful and make a good car. Then the chemistry with the drivers, plus the results, have been a boost and brought out the best.”
Kubica too has been quick to speak positively about the union: “The team is building up again with a bit of a different mentality, a bit of a different approach and I think it’s working. Nobody, before the start of the season, would have put one Euro on us, but we’ve managed to finish on the podium twice. We have showed good pace. We have to keep working and pushing and I believe and I hope that one day we will be able to really fight for victories.”
Whispers have been flying about lately that Kubica’s stay at Renault will be a short one, that’ll be a Ferrari driver, alongside fellow ex-Renault driver Alonso, in 2011.
But from what we’re hearing post-Monaco this isn’t likely. The chances are Robert will stick with Renault for 2011, hoping to build the team around him (he’s already well on the way to this) and take the Reige to the world championship- just like Alonso did. Sure, the totally non-political Kubica would cope just fine alongside Alonso, and wouldn’t let the Spaniard’s mind games phase him. But wouldn’t it be more fun to beat him in the team he left to join the Scuderia?
Well, maybe it would, but that won’t be on Kubica’s mind. With Kimi Raikonnen out of the picture Robert is probably the least complicated, most pure racer in Formula One. He doesn’t care what happens out of the car, doesn’t much care what car he’s in, all he cares about is winning races, and ultimately the championship. Can the newfound Kubica-Renault dream team make this a reality? It’s going to be interesting finding out.