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Kubica closer to an F1 return as Williams ponders decision

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) After nearly losing his right hand, Robert Kubica could be steering a Formula One car with it next year.

If he returns it will complete a remarkable comeback for the 32-year-old Polish driver, rated as one of the quickest in F1 before a gruesome rally accident left him needing seven hours of surgery on a partially severed right hand, and numerous subsequent operations.

Kubica did F1 testing for Renault earlier this season and recently with the Williams team, and is consideration for an F1 seat in 2018.

No announcement is planned during this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Williams says. But in what appears to be a boost for his ambitions, Williams announced Wednesday that Kubica will take part in Pirelli tire testing after the race.

Those tests are aimed at evaluating tires, but it gives driver further time behind the wheel before Williams decides.

It was his love of all racing that pushed Kubica into trying rallying six years ago, and it almost ended his career. After crashing at a little-known Italian rally in February, 2011, he was trapped in the wreckage of his battered Skoda for more than an hour and also sustained arm and leg fractures.

“The accident turned my life upside down, but I’m aware that a few centimeters more and I wouldn’t be here talking about it,” Kubica said. “The biggest job I had to do was in my own head. There were some terrible times when I no longer felt up to it. It was worse than a physical pain.”

Initially, he cut all ties with F1.

“I never wanted to visit a Grand Prix paddock or attend a test, despite being invited,” Kubica said.

Stark realization was setting in.

“Life had given me so much and then in an instant, it (almost) took it all away,” Kubica recently told the official magazine of the FIA, the governing body for auto racing. “They say that time is a healer but that wasn’t the case for me – it made me suffer more.”

That was until he accepted his situation.

“The brain can develop the ability to compensate, at least partly, for one’s physical limits,” he said. “It’s difficult to explain something like this – only those who have experienced it can really understand.”

A popular driver in F1 from 2006-10, Kubica earned 12 F1 podium finishes and was considered among the brightest talents.

“Not a lot of great, great drivers come through,” four-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton said. “Then you have real special drivers like him.”

Kubica won the Canadian GP driving for BMW Sauber in 2008, after placing second at the Monaco GP. He was reportedly close to joining Ferrari in a move that would have offered him a better title shot.

Even if he never races in F1 again, his comeback from that crash is already impressive. Two years later, he won the WRC2 title – rally’s second-tier championship.

This year he has edged closer to F1.

When he tested for Renault on Valencia’s Ricardo Tormo circuit in June, albeit in an older and lighter F1 car, he was overwhelmed.

“I don’t get emotional easily but that day I really did,” he said. “I realized that driving a Formula One car was the thing that made me happy and I finally felt at peace.”

When he tested in the 2017 car at the Hungaroring for Renault in late July, just outside of Budapest, he was fourth quickest and completed 142 laps. It proved his fitness was OK and that he retained some speed from his F1 days.

It wasn’t quite enough to convince Renault, which has since signed promising Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr.

But Williams needs a replacement for 36-year-old Brazilian driver Felipe Massa, who is retiring after Sunday’s season-ending race.

One of the main problems is that the weight of the 2017 F1 car – heavier than in recent years – puts greater strain on Kubica’s fragile right arm.

Williams is not giving anything away, saying only that “although conversations are ongoing with Kubica, it is still yet to be finally decided who will replace Massa.”

British driver Paul Di Resta, who previously raced in 59 GPs with Force India, is also being considered.

Kubica has good backing, since he is being managed by 2016 F1 champion Nico Rosberg, and is highly regarded.

“Robert is one of the quickest drivers I’ve ever raced against,” Hamilton said. “Raw, natural talent. If he was still racing today he’d been in contention for a world title.”

Latest INDYCAR Aeroscreen test continues to provide feedback; data to series

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Bruce Martin Photo
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RICHMOND, Virginia – After completing its third Aeroscreen test since October 2, INDYCAR continues to collect valuable data and feedback from the drivers and engineers involved in testing.

The latest test of the Aeroscreen came Tuesday, October 15 at Richmond Raceway, a .750-mile short oval. Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon has been involved in testing dating all the way back to 2017 at Phoenix with the original “Windscreen.” Tuesday’s test was the first-time two-time NTT IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden was able to test the device that partially encloses the cockpit proving greatly enhanced driver safety.

It was also the first time the current “Aeroscreen” designed and created by Red Bull Advanced Technologies, Pankl and Dallara has been tested at a short oval – a track that measures under 1.5-miles in length.

The previous tests were at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 2 and the Barber Motorsports Park road course on October 7.

“It wasn’t a problem getting in the car today and relearning a new viewpoint,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com at the conclusion of Tuesday’s test. “It felt like a new viewpoint. It’s still an Indy car. It still feels like an Indy car. The car does a lot of the things it did before. It required some slight tuning differences to accommodate a different center of gravity and different total weight.

“Overall, it still felt like the same Indy car I drove three weeks ago. You get used to that new viewpoint within 30 or 40 laps. It was alien at first but halfway through the day it feels like home again.”

Newgarden’s Team Penske test team along with INDYCAR officials worked on changes to getting air into the cockpit and directing the air to the right place where the driver can utilize it.

“We’ve come up with some solutions that we like,” Newgarden said. “INDYCAR and the teams will continue to fine-tune this. That is why we are doing these tests. The main goal was to figure this out and fine-tune this stuff. We have come up with a lot of good solutions to all of the little things we have talked about that we have needed so when Sebastien Bourdais goes to Sebring (on November 5), it will just be another version.

“We are already close. Because they are such small details, it feels like normal racing stuff and we will come up with solutions for that.”

Some drivers who have participated in the Aeroscreen test has said, they almost feel naked without having the halo-like structure with a clear windshield protecting them on the race car.

“Once we got through a whole IndyCar season, if you took it off, it would feel really strange,” Newgarden said. “People adapt so quickly to a change, what the car looks like. Once you give us a couple of races and a full year, it will feel like home and something we are very used to as drivers.

“It is already starting to get that way. People are feeling more comfortable with it. The field of view is almost identical to the way it was before. Your peripheral vision is identical, the way you look out the front of the cars is identical, the way you see the tires is identical.”

Individual driver preference will allow for shading of the sun and that can be accomplished with the visor strips on the helmet and the tear-offs on Aeroscreen.

Drivers will also have a bit of a quieter atmosphere inside the cockpit. The partial enclosure makes it easier to hear his radio communication and the sounds of the engine in the driver’s car. It partially blocks out the sounds of the engines in the other cars and the rush of wind traveling at high speeds that used to buffet in and around the helmet.

“It has changed the noise level slightly inside the cockpit,” Newgarden said. “For me, it wasn’t super dramatic. It’s a slight reduction in wind noise. You’re not getting the wind directly over your head as dramatically as you would before. All that external noise has just been dimmed.

“You can hear the radio a touch better, things like that. But the engine noise is still quite prominent. It’s bolted directly behind us, so you still hear quite a bit of what’s going on in the car and the engine.”

Dixon was in the car at Indianapolis on October 2 and returned on Tuesday. The Barber test on October 7 included this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud, in a Team Penske Chevrolet and Ryan Hunter-Reay in an Andretti Autosport Honda.

“The only differences are the openings on the front wing that creates some more airflow around the legs and body and a different inlet in the screen that was in place today,” Dixon told NBC Sports.com. “There were helmet cooling options since the Barber test because on the road course, some of the drivers were getting a little hotter.

“This project has been very in-depth. It hit the ground running very smoothly. There are some alternate options they are trying to create, especially on the street courses where we will experience hot condition. On street conditions, your depth perception changes because of how close you are to the walls, but we should get used to that.”

Two weeks ago, Team Penske driver Will Power said it takes a different style to get out of the race car because of the added height of the Aeroscreen.

That hasn’t been a problem for Dixon.

“That’s easy, man,” he said. “Just go through the hole in the top.”