With The Renault Seat Filled, What's Next for Robert Kubica in F1?
One door back into Formula 1 has closed... but another one looks to be open.
Renault formally announced Carlos Sainz Jr.'s 2018 contract on Friday, after weeks of rumors and buildup heralded the Spaniard's move to a factory team. The team that gave Robert Kubica his shot at a return to Formula 1 with tests in Spain, France, and Hungary, has closed the door on the Pole by going with Sainz. Kubica is now free of his Renault contract, according to Motorsport Online, but neither he nor his fans need to be down about this development, as an Autosport report confirms that Kubica is of interest to other teams—both those active in Formula 1 and some beyond.
Some have even begun to speculate that Williams is the team most likely to give Robert his next chance at a comeback, and there is enough evidence both for and against this theory that it warrants examination.
The first thing to consider is which seat at Williams would be open: that of Lance Stroll or Felipe Massa. Going by the deep pockets of Stroll and advanced age of Massa, not to mention Massa's planned retirement at the end of last year, we can conclude that the Brazilian's departure will likely be sooner than the Canadian's. The timeline for Massa's retirement is unknown, but we do know that he's interested in sticking around for at least one more season. After that, it's Formula E for Massa.
Kubica's competitors for the eventually vacant Williams seat include Pascal Wehrlein, Jolyon Palmer, and Marcus Ericsson, both of whom drive for Sauber this year. Wehrlein we can disqualify, though, as he fails to meet title sponsor Martini's requirement that one of Williams' drivers be 25 years of age.
Palmer too can be considered a non-factor, as he has been shamed by both Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hülkenberg alike, and apparently isn't even valuable enough to Renault to warrant keeping in the loop.
That leaves Ericsson and Kubica fighting to be king of the hill, but Ericsson's footing is not nearly as strong as Kubica's. Ericsson is a well-backed pay driver, whose presence in the sport is not entirely because of his skills. During these troubled last two seasons for Sauber, the team has recorded a mere three points finishes, and Ericsson has scored a whopping zero of them. Even with the cash he brings to the team, he's not helping Sauber's competitive situation on the track, so his Williams negotiations may be out of fear of losing his seat to young talent. Someone like Charles Leclerc, perhaps?
Should Leclerc get a seat with Sauber for 2018, Sauber's choice between keeping pointless Ericsson or twice-scoring Wehrlein is almost a no-brainer. For Williams, the choice between Kubica and Ericsson would be simple: a pay driver bringing sums that fail to rival the income brought by Stroll, or a risky, but possibly quick driver with a dedicated fanbase. We know who we'd choose.
Kubica, thus, stands as one of the best future options for Williams; all he needs is a familiar foot in the door. Fortunately for him, a new member of his managerial staff has some connections at Williams: Nico Rosberg, 2016 world champion, is now working as one of Kubica's managers, according to Autosport. Rosberg drove for Williams between 2006 and 2009, with two podium finishes during his 2008 season, before departing to Mercedes for the remainder of his career in 2010.
"It's fantastic to be working on this with Nico," said Kubica to Autosport. "We've known each other since we were kids and he is, and will be, a great asset in my F1 comeback."
Rosberg, too, is giddy about doing his best to get Kubica back into Formula 1. "Robert and Lewis are the fastest I ever raced against," said Rosberg to Autosport. "Therefore, I am thrilled to join forces with Robert on his journey back to racing in Formula 1."
Even if Williams isn't Kubica's target, Rosberg's connections in the paddock will be immeasurably useful for getting Kubica back into the cockpit. Maybe he can even call in some favors at Mercedes once Bottas' one-year contract extension expires at the end of 2018. Either way, keep an eye out for Rosberg in the paddock. There ought to be plenty to squawk about if Nico and Sir Frank Williams are seen making hush-hush negotiations.