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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.”

F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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