Robert Kubica’s successful recent private test with Renault after severe right hand and arm injuries sustained in a 2011 rallying accident, combined with current driver Jolyon Palmer’s struggles, has led to many fans clamoring to see the Pole given a chance to test, or even race, one of the 2017 spec Formula One cars.
Even after years away, Kubica impressed at Valencia in a 2012 Lotus decked out in current Renault livery, completing 115 laps and, allegedly, outperforming current third driver at Renault, Sergey Sirotkin. Renault’s track-side operations director Alan Permane had only good things to say about the Pole’s outing, noting: “He was quick. He did some long runs, he did some short runs, he did qualifying, we did race simulations and it all went very well” (Autosport). Kubica has since made it known that his ultimate target is to try and make a full return to Formula 1, and the fact that he was able to show good pace in simulating a whole Grand Prix weekend indicates that his fitness levels are not too far off what would be required. In addition, the only changes that needed to be made to his car was “a very, very small modification to the steering wheel for shifting” to accommodate his weakened right arm and hand, which obviously makes accommodating his needs much less complicated.
The overwhelmingly positive reaction to this news from Formula 1 fans comes at just the worst possible time for Jolyon Palmer, who is facing increased criticism for his perceived under-performance this season for Renault, with teammate Nico Hülkenberg having scored all 18 of the French manufacturer’s championship points this season. To put that in context, Renault are currently 7th in the standings, but if a teammate could deliver just half of the points that Hülkenberg has, then they would already be in 6th, with an equivalent score propelling Renault all the way into 5th position. Two places might not seem like much, but every single position counts as a result of the increased revenue on offer. For Renault, a historically significant brand in F1, increased revenue can lead to greater improvement in their steady developmental process of establishing themselves as a front-running constructor once more.
While Palmer has been unlucky in some races, the alarming ease at which Hülkenberg outperforms the Brit consistently is definitely a cause for concern. Consecutive 11th place finishes in Monaco and Canada just outside the points is indicative of improvement, but the fact remains that Palmer’s underwhelming qualifying performances leaves him too much to do in races. It also has to be noted that both the much-maligned Lance Stroll and Pascal Wehrlein of the struggling Sauber outfit have scored points during the current campaign, with the former still only 18 years of age and the latter wrestling with a sub-par car. Renault Sport F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul made it clear during the past week that the French outfit demands improvement: “The fact is that Jo has a car which is a point-scoring car, and he has to enter into the points. Full stop.” (Eurosport). At this stage, though, there is no clear indication yet that Renault are looking to replace Palmer, but under the circumstances, unless there is significant improvement, they might seriously start considering it.
Renault have a golden PR opportunity in their hands, with little downside and massive potential reward. If Kubica gets the opportunity to test a 2017 car, or even take part in a free-practice session or two, and shows the same speed and consistency that he showed in his recent test at Valencia, the team might be tempted into giving him a seat alongside Hülkenberg at the expense of Palmer. There is no way that Kubica can score less than the 0 points Palmer has conjured up so far this season, and any points that he does score will be a bonus for Renault, as well as giving them immense positive press given the enthusiastic support that Kubica enjoys. Of course, the most plausible replacement for Palmer is third driver Sergey Sirotkin, but if Kubica shows higher or at least equivalent pace, is it not possible that they might be tempted to put him in the car?
At this stage, all of this is nothing more than conjecture, but it is worth keeping in mind. Who knows what might happen?
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