A couple of months before the start of the 2009 Formula 1 season, there was a pool going at the magazine that I then worked for. A bunch of us stuck a sheet of paper up on the wall and wrote down our picks for who would win the driver's championship that year. I picked Robert Kubica. I wasn't the only one, he got two votes at that pool. Then the pre-season tests began, and Brawn GP was catapulted into the limelight. They would go on to dominate the season entirely, winning everything in sight, taking home the Constructor's title, while Jenson Button would win the Driver's championship. Kubica would finish 14th in the standings, a full 10 places behind his finishing spot the previous year.
Robert Kubica will be making a comeback to circuit racing in 2017
2008, then, would be the Polish driver's most successful season in F1. It was his third season in the sport, and he finished third thrice, finished second a further three times, and won his first grand prix, taking victory at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Canada. Over the next two seasons, Kubica would manage a few podiums, first with the BMW Sauber team, and then with Renault. There were hopes that he'd do well in 2011 - after all his own ability as a driver had never come into question. And then suddenly, as they so often do, things changed.
On the 6th of February 2011, Kubica crashed at Rally Andorra. The guardrail that bordered the road pierced through the Skoda Fabia S2000 that he was driving and went through the entire car. The Fabia was essentially skewered on that piece of guardrail, and horrifyingly enough so was Kubica. His right arm had been badly injured - he suffered a partially amputated forearm, compound fractures to the rest of the arm and his right leg, and a black eye from the contact his head made with the steering wheel. He had to sit out the 2011 season, and while Renault had hoped that he might make it back in 2012, he'd have to sit that season out as well. His Formula 1 career was over. According to most people his motorsport career was over. Well, those people clearly didn't know Robert Kubica.
Robert Kubica comes flying over the crest at Rally Poland back in 2014
Three years later, I was standing at a jump during a stage of Rally Poland. And flying over the crest came Robert Kubica in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC. The shouting and cheering from the fans was deafening, almost as loud as the rally car itself! After all this was Poland, and Kubica was the home hero. There he was in his second full season in the World Rally Championship, a career in rallying that began rather well too, with Kubica winning the first two stages of his WRC career. The rest of his three seasons in the WRC were mixed though - a fair number of retirements, a few stage wins, and a few top 10 results. In 2016, Kubica crashed out of Rally Monte Carlo, withdrew his entry from Rally Sweden, and then things went quiet.
Back to Rally Poland in 2014 though. I remember walking around in the service park that evening, and managing to speak to the likes of Sebastien Ogier, Andreas Mikkelsen and Thierry Neuville. I had wanted to speak to Kubica, but there was simply no way to get near him. He was constantly surrounded by a throng of fans - the front facing cameras on various cell phones being used incessantly. His time away from Formula 1, and his hiatus from motorsport during his period of recovery, hadn't diminished his popularity one bit. If anything it seemed like Kubica was a far more beloved figure after his accident. He was the racer who got back up, dusted himself off, and kept on going.
I remember narrating this story, a few days later, to someone who'd once competed against Kubica in go-karts. I was told that even all those many years ago, as a young karter Kubica had been well-respected because of just how good he was, and well-liked because he was a good sport overall. He'd been talented and popular from the very beginning. A few years later this same person showed me a box of old photos of his own karting days. And there, in one photograph taken at a go-kart track somewhere in Germany, was a very young Robert Kubica. Same hairline, same frank eyes, same determinedly set mouth. I remember wondering back then whether that young boy had any idea what he'd go through in the pursuit of his motorsport goals. Probably not. You can't predict the future. But you can relentlessly chase your dreams, and accept, from the very beginning, that things might not go according to plan, but that you've got to give it your best shot anyway.
All these thoughts about Kubica came flooding back to me one February afternoon this year, when amongst the many announcements that were made at the video conference about the 2017 World Endurance Championship, was tucked away a little surprise from Kubica. The Polish driver had signed up with the ByKolles team, and would compete in the entire WEC season, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans. If the test that he completed in November 2016 is anything to go by - Kubica was faster than the team's regular drivers - it could be a sign of good things to come. But even if that test isn't an accurate indicator of what his performance will be like in the WEC, it doesn't matter to me one bit. In 2017, across all series and all disciplines of motorsport, Robert Kubica is who I'll be rooting for the most.
See, there are two kinds of people in the world. People who go through life just being. People who are passive. People who let things happen to them. People who don't take responsibility for what's happened. People who resist changing their situation and instead resort to whining and complaining, all the while staying scarily still.
But the fact remains that the world is and always will be unpredictable and chaotic. And life will persist in throwing you curveballs. Which is why you ought to be like that other set of people. People like Robert Kubica who get right back up and catch those curveballs. Even if they have to use just their left hands.