BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Robert Kubica was second-to-last, 19th out of 20. And smiling.
He drove in the first practice for the Spanish Grand Prix on Friday, his first official Formula One session since he almost lost his right hand in a rally crash in 2011.
The reserve and development driver for Williams showed, at least to himself, he has what it takes to make a full return to the series.
Now he just wants another chance.
“I know my value. I don’t have to look at lap times,” Kubica said. “I know that if I would have a chance to drive the car every week like permanent race drivers, there is even more room to improve. I have seen it now that, in the end, whatever is missing is only because I’m doing it every two months, if something is missing.”
Williams struggled with its car at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Kubica was 19th and teammate Lance Stroll 20th and last. Sergei Sirotkin returned to the car in the afternoon session, but also couldn’t match Kubica’s time.
“In the end it’s difficult to say that it was enjoyable because our car balance was very bad and it was very difficult to drive,” Kubica said. “But I’m satisfied with the session and with how I reacted to difficult conditions. It sounds strange that you can be happy with P19, but actually I’m happy.”
The 33-year-old Kubica said driving was not as emotional as he expected, which “means that it’s becoming more natural” after a long time out of the series. His 76th and last grand prix was the 2010 season finale.
“I was more emotional last year when I was jumping for the first time in the car,” the Polish driver said. “Once you crack on the engine and you leave the garage … my job is always the same. It’s to deliver good feedback and try to get all the pace as soon as possible.”
Kubica participated in preseason testing with Williams this year. He will be back in the car on Wednesday for another test session in Barcelona, and again in practice in Austria and Abu Dhabi.
“I miss competition. But for me competition is not (a practice session) or testing, competition is being on the grid on Sunday. I miss it, but when you are away for a long time you get used to it also. I’m more concentrated on my work, on the opportunity I have. I don’t look at it like, `I should be there.’ I am happy with what I’m achieving.”
The ultimate goal remains the same, though, which is to find a full-time ride.
“If I wouldn’t try to do it, I wouldn’t be here. I appreciate the opportunity (with Williams), it gives me the opportunity to live my passion. It’s not only about driving, but working with the team, trying to understand Formula One from a different perspective.”
Kubica earned 12 podium finishes from 2006-10 and was considered among F1’s brightest talents.
He returned to rallying in 2013 and competed in endurance championships. Despite limited motion in his right hand, he’s adapted, and tested with Renault then Williams last year.
“I have been in (a) school where they give you a bird and you have to hold it (in a way) that it doesn’t fly away, but you cannot hold it too much that it will get scared. And this is the way you have to hold a steering wheel,” Kubica said. “You just have to use what is enough. And probably the way I drive it, it’s enough (the way) I’m doing it. Otherwise I would not be here and otherwise I would not have this opportunity.”