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Questions linger for Renault over Kubica’s readiness for F1 return

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Renault still does not have all the answers it requires to decide whether or not Robert Kubica is ready to make a full-time return to Formula 1 for 2018 despite an impressive test performance by the Pole in Hungary.

Kubica’s F1 career looked to have ended abruptly in 2011 when he suffered severe injuries to his right arm in a rally accident over the winter break, only for him to make a number of steps towards a single-seater return this year.

Two strong private runs in a 2012-spec car led to Kubica featuring at the collective post-Hungarian Grand Prix test, impressing behind the wheel of the 2017 Renault F1 car and against his peers.

All of Kubica’s performances have fuelled speculation he could be on the cusp of a return to F1 in 2018 with Renault, but team boss Cyril Abiteboul said on Friday that he does not quite have all the answers required to know if a comeback is possible.

“Frankly, we said that we wanted to be extremely methodical and analytical about the way we were approaching things with Robert,” Abiteboul said.

“It’s not a PR exercise, it’s not a coup. It’s something we are taking very seriously and we are trying to leave the emotion on the side.

“We don’t have all the answers that we potentially wanted to get from that test, after his test. In relation to that, Formula 1 is very restrictive in terms of tests you can do, so in a perfect world we would want to do more of this type of test to see if he can race again at the level that he and we could have wanted.

“It may or may not be possible. We will see.”

Abiteboul confirmed that Renault would need to make a call on Kubica in the near future as it looks to decide on its driver plans for the 2018 season.

“Deciding on Robert is deciding our line-up the second part of our line-up for next year,” Abiteboul said.

“It’s well reported that Nico [Hulkenberg] has a multi-year contract when Jo [Palmer] has a one-year contract. So obviously we have one driver to decide for next year.

“So we have also the restrictions I was referring to on Robert and we’ll also need to consistent with the timing of deciding for a second driver and as the market is starting to sort of go, with the different announcements this week of Ferrari and McLaren.

“I expect there will be some other announcements at some points, because usually these things do not go in isolation, so we cannot just be sitting on our work and making up our plans and our timing ourselves.

“It has to follow the timing of all the drivers.”

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.