Robert Kubica made his first official Formula One outing in more than six years on Wednesday as the Pole took another major step on his remarkable comeback trail.
Kubica managed an impressive 142 laps – the equivalent of more than two race distances at the Hungaroring – and improved his time by four tenths to finish an impressive fourth in the order.
The 32-year-old partially severed his right arm in a rallying crash back in 2011 that brought a sudden halt to a grand prix career which had seem him earmarked as future champion.
But Kubica appeared to show no ill-effects of the injury on his first official test in an F1 car for 2,372 days.
Kubica said: “It was a fantastic feeling for me to be here today and it was amazing to see so many fans come to see me out on track, so thank you to all of them. It has been an incredible journey to this point, where I have answered many questions to myself.
“I learnt a lot about the latest generation car, as there are a reasonable amount of differences between it and the Formula One cars I have driven in the past. After today, it’s too early to say what the next step might be. For now, I owe a big thanks to everyone at Renault Sport Formula One team for making this test happen.”
Kubica’s day got off to a shaky start after he brushed Renault’s garage wall with his right rear tyre as he left the pits. The force of the impact dislodged a sign displaying Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg’s name above the garage, but after a small pause, Kubica continued.
The Pole’s banker lap was around six seconds off the pace, but his times began to tumble as the morning wore on, and his best effort was just 1.2secs slower than Renault driver Jolyon Palmer’s qualifying lap for the Hungarian Grand Prix. It is probable that Kubica will also have been carrying more fuel, and thus a heavier car, than Britain’s Palmer.
Kubica completed 115 laps at a private test in Valencia in June before a further trial last month in which he managed 90 laps of the Paul Ricard circuit in France. But Wednesday’s outing marked his first behind the wheel of this year’s faster and more demanding generation of grand prix cars, and a sterner test of the mobility in his right arm.
Kubica was cheered on by a large army of Polish supporters who chanted his name throughout the morning running on the concluding day of this week’s test.
The Pole made 76 grands prix starts, and finished on the podium 12 times. He also won the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix.