Robert Kubica is a championship contender

Apr. 10 (Daniel Chalmers) At the moment the drivers’ championship looks in great shape with just nine points covering the top seven drivers. The top six are from the teams who were expected to be at the front, known currently as “the big four”.

1 Felipe Massa 39
2 Fernando Alonso 37
3 Sebastian Vettel 37
4 Jenson Button 35
5 Nico Rosberg 35
6 Lewis Hamilton 31
7 Robert Kubica 30
8 Mark Webber 24

However 7th place is Robert Kubica, ahead of two of the drivers driving for “the big four”. He could be even closer to Felipe Massa if it wasn’t for that first corner tap at Bahrain. His pace that weekend suggested that he could have challenged for the top six. Had he finished 6th scoring eight points, he would actually be second in the standings!

After he announced his move to Renault many thought it would be bad move for his career. In the following weeks after the move it was certainly looking like an uninspired choice.

Firstly Renault re-considered their future in the wake of Toyota’a decision to quit creating weeks of uncertainty.

Secondly the drama surrounding Jenson Button’s move to McLaren was yet to unfold. This meant that a very attractive seat suddenly became available at Mercedes. Unfortunately Robert had already played his cards and was now under contract.

Then the most important issue of all, after a season of such turmoil, would the R30 be competitive?

So far Kubica and Renault are turning out to be a partnership made in heaven. They are already becoming the surprise of the season against all odds.

After a strong start to the season there is no doubt that Kubica has placed himself as a strong outsider for the championship.

Renault has produced a more competitive car than last season. At the moment the car is around six or seven tenths off current pacesetters Red Bull. On the positive side they aren’t far off Mercedes as Kubica challenged Nico Rosberg for most of the Malaysian GP.

Kubica has shown he doesn’t need the quickest car to get involved in the action. If you give Kubica a sniff of an opportunity to get a strong result he will go and get it. If any of the top guns hit trouble then Kubica will pounce. His key assets are his consistency and tendency not to make errors.  He has also demonstrated that he is capable of out-driving his equipment.

These assets were on display in abundance in 2008. Despite the fact that McLaren and Ferrari were comfortable the strongest cars all season Kubica kept himself in the title race right until the penultimate event in China.

He achieved that by consistently scoring good points all season. He didn’t make silly mistakes like main contenders Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton were. In other races he punched well above his weight to beat the McLarens and Ferraris on merit.

If BMW hadn’t switched focus to 2009 after the team’s win in Canada, Kubica could well have been world champion. BMW though approached F1 like a business and not a sport. They had hit their target of winning their first F1 race and they were happy enough with that. They seriously underestimated the chance that they had to win the championship. This is something that made Kubica angry, and their relationship deteriorated.

Robert was strong again in Malaysia

In many ways 2010 could present a similar opportunity to 2008 for Kubica.

In Australia he shone in a race with mixed conditions. He finished in a remarkable second place. He managed to hold off a feisty Lewis Hamilton, and kept the Ferraris behind him in the second half of the race with ease.

In Malaysia Kubica made the most of the errors made by McLaren and Ferrari to take big points in 4th place.

With the competition very close at the front between the top teams it’s likely that we are going to see a variety of winners and podium combinations in 2010.

Pitstop at Sepang for Robert

So far we have already seen three different winners from three different teams. In 2010 a driver in one of the top teams can finish 7th in one race and win the next race as Jenson Button showed in his first two races. If that theme continues amongst the leading contenders then nobody is going to be able to pull away in the standings, which will help Kubica.

If Kubica can score consistent points in each race, and take the opportunities like Australia presented him to score bigger points then he can stay in the 2010 title fight just as he did in 2008.

Eric Boullier and Robert at Enstone

Eric Boullier told Autosport: “We know our car has the pace to be at least just behind the big top four, so obviously any mess up front we can take the opportunity to score points.”

However the difference to 2008 is that if Robert was to repeat his feat of winning in Canada, and leave leading the championship Renault would push hard for the title.

It would be ironic if this same scenario occurred but this time Renault helped Kubica be champion. You wonder what BMW boss Mario Theissen would think about his decision not to push for the title in 2008 if he saw that happen on his TV at home.

“The strength of this team is that at its core the people are proper racers” says Boullier. This is why Kubica joined Renault.

With Kubica’s two recent strong results Renault have now been galvanised and 2009 is now a distant memory.

Renault are confident that they can improve over the season and this will only increase Kubica’s chances.

Alan Permane says: “We have a very good wind tunnel, which was upgraded over the winter; we’ve done good correlation work between the tunnel and the track.”

He added: “Our aero department is performing better than ever and they’re finding very good gains at the moment. Downforce levels are increasing almost on a daily basis.”

Renault has experience of title battles from 2005 and 2006 with Fernando Alonso. In 2008 Renault proved they were capable of developing the car quickly after coming back from a poor start to the season, and winning a couple of races later on in the year.

Furthermore Renault has been making it clear how happy the team are with Kubica. The team are clearly making the most of his abilities, and are thriving with his presence.

Boullier told “It is a great motivation for the whole team to see a driver still working with the engineers late into the night – pushing and demanding. If the engineers can follow those demands, and the driver can put that onto the track, then you will have that result.”

Legendary F1 commentator Murray Walker recently said in his BBC video blog that if you put Kubica in the fastest car (something he hasn’t possessed unlike many of his title rivals) then his opponents wouldn’t see him for dust. He may not be wrong either.

In conclusion Kubica remains an outsider in 2010 but he is currently driving brilliantly and has lifted the spirits of his team. If the drivers in the top teams fall over each other all season, Kubica and Renault could be the horse on the outside that sneaks to victory.

  • Bec

    Robert’s one of the drivers with his feet on the ground, no ‘prima donna’ antics from him.

  • Magnus Rubensson

    If Formula One had kept its classic 9-6-4-3-2-1 points system, Kubica would now be in 5th place with 9 points (second place and 6 points in AUS, fourth place and 3 points in Malaysia).

    Kubica would have been ahead of Rosberg (two fifth places and one third) and also ahead of Hamilton (one third and two sixth places).

    He would be only 3 points behind Alonso and Vettel who would currently be sharing the lead with 12 points each (one win and one 4th place each).

    It should look approximately like this (hope I calculated this correctly):

    1 Alonso 12
    1 Vettel 12
    3 Massa 10
    4 Button 9 (one win)
    5 Kubica 9 (one 2nd + one 4th)
    6 Rosberg 8
    7 Webber 6 (one 2nd)
    8 Hamilton 6 (one 3rd + two 6th places)
    9 Sutil 2
    10 Schumacher 1

  • Daniel Chalmers YallaF1

    Thanks for that post Magnus. it’s interesting to see how the championship looks under different point systems.

    Here is how it would be looking using last year’s system (10,8,6,5,4,3,2,1):

    1 Felipe Massa 16
    2 Fernando Alonso 15
    3 Sebastian Vettel 15
    4 Nico Rosberg 14
    5 Jenson Button 13
    6 Robert Kubica 13
    7 Lewis Hamilton 12
    8 Mark Webber 9
    9 Adrian Sutil 4
    10 Michael Schumacher 3

    No matter which system you use a) 2010 is looking like a very close championship and b) Kubica looks in a strong position.

    So far in 2010 Felipe Massa is the only person to have appeared on the podium twice.

  • Magnus Rubensson

    I fully agree that Kubica is looking very strong. He has done consistently better than what was expected for quite some time now. And never really had a top car. The BMW were good cars, but they didn’t seem to be top cars.

    I thought it was a pity Heidfeld missed out this year, points-wise he was often on par with Kubica at BMW. Usually brought the car to the finish even if the win eluded him.

    Massa finished 2nd + 3rd (+ 7th) and leads the official points table while Kubica ends up in seventh after finishing 2nd + 4th (+11th). But 7th is not as far off as it may seem. If Kubica continues in this way and manages to stay out of trouble (especially in Turn 1), then he could be in with a real chance as the season progresses. Seems to be happy in the team too.

    Actually I cannot recall a championship where there have been so many contenders. I’m old enough to remember Jim Clark winning one (just about :-)