Robert Kubica admitted he received more messages of congratulations than he has contacts in his phone after his return to Formula One after an eight-year absence was confirmed on Thursday.
In a poignant moment, the Pole’s return to the pinnacle of motor racing was announced by the team ahead of Sunday’s Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Yas Marina Circuit was the venue of Kubica’s last F1 race in November 2010, where he finished fifth behind winner Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg.
In his debut season with Renault, the then 25-year-old Kubica would finish eighth behind champion Vettel, with big things predicted for the Pole’s future.
Then came the crash while competing in a rally in northern Italy the following February that would see part of his right arm amputated and bring his F1 dreams to a grinding halt.
It’s been a long and arduous road back for Kubica, now 33, but he will finally return to the F1 grid in 2019.
There he will come into contact with the likes of reigning world champion Hamilton and four-time winner Vettel – but Kubica admitted surprise at the amount of people who contacted him to offer their congratulations on Thursday night.
“I don’t know how many messages I had after yesterday (Thursday),” Kubica said with a grin when asked following the end of free practice one on Friday.
“Apparently I got more messages than I have numbers saved in my phone. I have very few numbers saved, but when I opened my phone late in the evening – because I had no time beforehand – I didn’t think I had that many numbers to get that many messages.”
Although he is “honoured” to be back at the elite level, however, Kubica quickly switched focus to next season and what is sure to be another long road ahead, fine-tuning and preparing for his comeback over the off-season and the opening race in Melbourne on March 17.
“It was a big day yesterday but that was yesterday and we are here to work,” added the affable Krakow native.
“With what is coming in the future we have to be focused on work and be ready for next year.”
Two people who Kubica probably didn’t receive messages from are Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, as they are instead more likely to have congratulated him in person over the course of the weekend.
Both men spoke glowingly about Kubica and his fairytale return to the sport in the driver’s press conference at Yas Marina on Thursday.
"It is a big achievement. One of, I think, the biggest achievements of my life."— WILLIAMS RACING (@WilliamsRacing) 22 November 2018
Robert Kubica's return to the #F1 grid in his own words. Watch the full film here: https://t.co/MAMvXO5Od1 pic.twitter.com/utNCCYdQ1a
Hamilton, a month younger than Kubica and who has already claimed his fifth championship and fourth in five years, said: “I raced him from karting so I’ve known him for long, long time and he was always one of most talented drivers I raced against.
“He’s had a really difficult time over the last years and it’s great to see he’s got the opportunity.”
Spaniard Alonso, 37, will bring the curtain down on an illustrious 17-year F1 career in the UAE capital this weekend. And the two-time champion added of Kubica: “He’s one of the great talents that this sport has and it’s great to see him come back to race.”
Kubica himself says he has tremendous respect for both drivers. “It’s nice to hear (what they said),” added the Pole.
“They have respect for me and I have respect for them. We know each other for a very long time and have raced each other in the past. “It’s a big day as Fernando is leaving. We had a very good relationship on and off the track, but this is life.”
Kubica has been with Williams all year as a test driver and back-up to youngsters Lance Stroll and Sergey Sorotkin, who have endured hugely disappointing campaigns, scoring six and one point respectively.
As such they will be replaced by Kubica and 20-year-old British phenom George Russell next season.
Kubica starts preparations for his return on Tuesday and Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, where he and Russell will take part in testing.
He was unwilling to talk too much about expectations for 2019 and is instead focusing on the task at hand.
“It’s a long time (I’ve been away), but I was pretty busy in that time,” he said.
“Unfortunately I was not racing a lot but I was still riding for three years. Finally I can say I will be back on an F1 grid which is a big challenge for sure. But that’s what I was working for and looking for.
“Now it’s a matter of preparing as much as we can and as best as we can. Hopefully the new car will be better and I will start working with the team and George on Tuesday to collect valuable data.
“It will be an honour for me to be back racing in F1 and I will try to do my best.
“It’s too early (to talk about expectations). We have to do a job, a very important one, which starts here on Tuesday with testing, which will be crucial and we have to focus on this. We have to think on our work and the long way to preparing for next year.”
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