The “hype train” has left the station and pulled into the Hungaroring at Budapest, where today Robert Kubica made his return to a current Formula 1 chassis for the first time in seven years.
The Polish driver had had two prior tests in older Renault chassis (then dubbed Lotus) in the last month or so, but today he had an opportunity to run the Renault R.S.17 in the second day of the post-Hungarian Grand Prix test.
And what a day it was. From running through various tire compounds from Pirelli to completing a whopping 142 laps, second most on the day only to Luca Ghiotto at Williams, Kubica was the undoubted star of the afternoon. He posted a best time of 1:18.572, good for fourth overall.
It all began with him actually knocking over Nico Hulkenberg’s garage sign as he left the garage for the first time, but it all went better from there.
Kubica left the garage to a throng of fans supporting the Polish driver – incredible to witness.
Renault provided updates from there as Kubica worked through his program. After installation laps, his first timed laps were in the 1:22 bracket, and only sought to get better from there.
A couple other teams tweeted about Kubica’s return as well, which Renault later retweeted – as did Renault’s last World Champion driver, Fernando Alonso.
Kubica got down to 1:20.327 not long after he got going, and then made it into the 1:19 range after that at 1:19.681 after more than 30 laps. He completed the morning session with 74 laps done.
Kubica ran on the soft, supersoft and ultrasoft compounds. By late in the afternoon he’d gone down to a 1:18.952, and once onto the ultrasoft that time dipped to 1:18.572.
Kubica thanked the fans after he got out of the car following a surreal day.
Renault’s post-test release featured Kubica’s initial reaction, before he later met the media.
“It was a fantastic feeling for me to be here today in the R.S.17 and also it was amazing to see so many fans come to see me out on track, so thank you to all of them,” Kubica said.
“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 1 cars I have driven in the past. The car is certainly wider than before. I was able to work through the team’s program methodically and I think we made good progress. Certainly my understanding of the R.S.17 and the 2017 tires came on a lot.
“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.”
Alan Permane, Sporting Director, added, “It’s been a full and productive day with over two Grands Prix worth of laps completed. We worked through a comprehensive program and Robert was able to give us great feedback. The R.S.17 ran faultlessly, even with the extreme temperatures we faced out on track. We have accumulated a lot of data over the past two days to add to the lessons learnt in the Grand Prix here, so we have scope to further optimize the car looking to the next Grands Prix after the summer shutdown.”
A surreal day no doubt, and perhaps the most important step yet in a potential return to Grand Prix racing for a driver hailed as one of the most talented of his generation.