Robert Kubica recently said he would love to test a Formula 1 car again. An appropriate time then I feel to relive his greatest moment in his F1 career.
2008 was the season which Sauber, with the help of BMW, took the fight to Formula 1’s top teams. It was the year which saw Robert Kubica come of age, and it gave him his first, and probably last, Formula 1 victory. On the 8th June 2008, the Sauber BMW F1 team had their moment in the sun.
Kubica had qualified in second place behind Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren, with Kimi Raikkonen for Ferrari third. A standard getaway left the top three in the same positions as they had been on the grid. Ahead of Kubica, Hamilton romped away, to open up a five second lead over the BMW. Then, on lap 16, Adrian Sutil’s Force India stopped on track, bringing out the safety car. This was back in the day when the pits closed when a safety car was deployed, so the field had to wait for the pits to reopen.
When they did, Hamilton led the charge into the pits. A slow pitstop for the McLaren driver dropped him behind Kubica and Raikkonen. The pair reached the end of the pitlane and stopped for the red light, but, for whatever reason, Hamilton didn’t. He narrowly avoided Kubica, but smashed straight into the back of the Ferrari, with the Williams of Nico Rosberg then hitting the back of Hamilton. In one foul swoop, Hamilton had caused mayhem. He and Raikkonen were out of the race, and Rosberg was penalised. This handed the race on a plate to BMW Sauber. But it was Nick Heidfeld who led the way!
Kubica was on a two-stop strategy, whereas Heidfeld was on a one stop. Before Heidfeld lead the field away, seven different leaders headed the field, before it sorted itself out after the pitstop phase. Kubica was one of those to pit over that section of the race, leaving Heidfeld in the lead. Heidfeld had a decent lead but Kubica was in a much lighter and faster car, and rapidly caught up to his teammate. Knowing resistance was futile, and a podium was still on, Heidfeld duly allowed his teammate through. Kubica did this on just the first lap out of the pits! Kubica never looked back after that, but his teammate had to! A charging Fernando Alonso in the Renault was putting pressure on the German driver, and it looked like Sauber might not get the fairytale 1-2 in which it was currently holding.
“I’m just thankful to Lewis for choosing the Ferrari to hit and not me”
Alonso’s charge however came to an abrupt end just a few laps later. A rare mistake saw him spin off and damage his front wing and suspension, putting him out of the race. Heidfeld was now safely in second place, and Kubica leading the way ahead of him. Kubica had been the first Pole on pole at the Bahrain Grand Prix earlier in the year, and took a solid podium in that race. Now, on this sunny afternoon in Canada, he was on his way to his first ever Grand Prix victory, and the first for Sauber BMW as well. It was a well-deserved victory for a team of pure racers.
Kubica took the checkered flag and the championship lead with it too. Sadly though, this was as good as it got for BMW Sauber. With a victory in the bag, the team decided to stop development on the 2008 car, to focus on the 2009 car, where big aerodynamic changes were coming in. Unfortunately, this headstart didn’t produce a title contender, and team endured a nightmare season, which culminated in BMW leaving Formula 1 with Sauber nearly going under. Only Peter Sauber’s tenacity saved it from extinction. To this day, it is a huge source of regret for BMW that they didn’t carry on developing what really could have become, a championship winning car.
“It is fantastic, I am overwhelmed. It is difficult to find the right words. Today just everything worked well”
Dr. Mario Theissen – BMW Motorsport Director
As for Kubica, he went to pastures new in 2010, to the Renault team, and impressed massively that year. His F1 career was sadly cut short in 2011, after a horrific rally accident nearly left him without his right arm. On the edge of Ferrari stardom, a promising career was cut short. And in 2008, a promising future for the Sauber team was effectively wiped out, on the day that promised them so much. The 8th June 2008. The day which Sauber, had its one, utterly glorious moment, in the sun. And Formula 1’s lost star, had his greatest moment yet.