Robert Kubica on a crash course in WRC

kubica-crash-120214It’s a bit strange when the very reason that halted Robert Kubica’s Formula One career has been defining his infant stint in the World Rally Championship.

Not that it wasn’t already strange when he could have been racing on closed circuits in DTM but opted instead for the open courses in rallying.

Now after three events in the top level, Kubica has been on a crash course – with more emphasis on the first word.

kubica-070214He binned it twice in the season-ender last year in Wales, careened gently out in Monte Carlo last month, and in Sweden he went off thrice, obstructed an annoyed Mads Ostberg and consequently received a rightful reprimand from the stewards.

His inexperience in snow was evident from day one in Sweden. Paired to go head-to-head with world champion Sebastien Ogier in the opening stage, Kubica made a blistering start only to finish the 1.9-kilometre Karlstadt superspecial five seconds off the pace in 12th.

He kept going downhill after that. But who could blame him?

He is not a rally driver. He is a Formula One star whose career in what is considered to be the highest echelon of motorsport was blunted by the very barriers that were supposed to protect him at the Ronde di Andora rally in 2011. He’s probably in the prime of his career and instead of dabbing into F1’s familiar feel in what could have been a Ferrari, Kubica is instead in the unfamiliar territories of WRC.

It was no surprise that only two non-Nordic drivers finished in the top ten in Sweden; one of which was defending champion Sebastien Ogier, making it two non-specialists in the top ten.

gronholm-kubica-1202142Marcus Gronholm, a well known Nordic and multiple winner in Sweden, labelled Kubica as “the most talented driver I have ever sat with” after the two tested ahead of Rally Sweden. What the double world champion observed, however, was inconsistency, translating into signs of inexperience – the Pole’s only problem.

“Maybe the speed is making me a little bit worried, it’s quick in places. When we were doing that I was thinking a little bit: ‘Oh, shit…’ But we didn’t have any moments,” reported Gronholm, who was also impressed by the Pole’s winning performance in the ERC’s Janner Rally last month. “He knows straight away when he needs the throttle and when he needs to be on the brakes. There’s no dur-dur-dur, waiting to be one or the other. Bang, he’s on it and he’s got it right. There’s no messing.”

Kubica played down the appreciation reminding that it was only a test and clarified that he intended to continue to step on the throttle despite his tumbles in Wales and Monte Carlo.

kubica-citroen-120214“You only learn to drive really fast by driving fast,” he said. “When you drive slowly many things never happen and you don’t learn. My target one day is that I hope be able fight for the win and I need to discover those things in the way I will approach the rallies in the future.”

But Gronholm reckoned that the win may not come this season and Kubica probably agrees.

“The experience I have and the pace I have does not go together,” Kubica said. “You could drive and finish a rally 2.5 seconds (per kilometre) off the pace, but you learn much less than driving at the pace.

“On gravel, these cars are made for force, they are made to put load through, and when I am driving slow I don’t put load on the tyres and then there is no grip and this gives more moments,” he elucidated. “It’s not so simple and people think if I drive slow I will be better, but driving slow gives me more moments.”

It’s this speed witnessed in Monte Carlo that had Ogier intrigued enough to keep an eye on Kubica this season.

kubica-f1-120214“His Formula One past is there for all to see on that surface (asphalt),” said the Frenchman.

But the Pole has reminded everyone that F1 and WRC are, well, poles apart. Kubica needs to back off, just a bit. He’s got his mind in the right place; now it’s time to get the pedal right. And after enduring an unyielding Rally Sweden, he indeed came to a point where he was admittedly driving like his “grandmother going to the supermarket.”

“The skills I take from F1 are not negative, but they are not helping all of the time,” Kubica pointed out. “In F1 you use all the grip you have and you use as much road as you have – everything is in perfection. In rallying you always have to consider that you don’t know how much grip is there and it’s difficult to know how the corner looks. It’s not the same.”

Ahead of Sweden, Kubica had admitted that he would be feeling his way in the dark given his obliviousness of the surface and had braced for a strenuous event. He was 11th after the second day (and seven stages) confessing that he couldn’t have done much more.

kubica-200114“The most difficult aspect has been to judge how much grip there is. Sometimes you can see a surface change, but with no experience, you have no idea what to expect,” he explained.

He even called being dragged into the snow banks in SS12 as “a new experience”. But it’s just not the snow banks; it’s the whole of the World Rally Championship. It’s not Formula One and Kubica knows it.

So, should his critics.

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