He's a likeable, talented, determined racer and one many pegged as a future world champion. Now, Robert Kubica's life will be all about patience.
The Lotus-Renault driver suffered multiple fractures to his right hand, arm, and leg and severe cuts to his forearm when an Armco barrier sliced through his car in a heavy crash during a rally event on Sunday in Italy. F1's first-ever Polish driver was airlifted to Santa Corona Hospital where he underwent a seven-hour operation to repair the damage, including extensive reconstruction of the tendons, blood vessels and nerves of his right forearm and hand.
The surgery went well and Kubica's hand was warm after the surgery. Although his doctors felt it was "in good shape," the 26-year-old may still lose his hand due to complications or perhaps never regain full use.
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"The danger is in five to seven days you can have vascular problems and shocks, and we could do surgery again to solve these problems," hand surgeon Igor Rossello told reports following the operation. "We will see in the next days what will happen."
The surgery itself was a massive undertaking, requiring two teams of surgeons from two different hospitals to complete. The forearm was the most complex to repair after the bones and tendons were broken and severed in two places. Doctors used four plates and several screws to put the bones together before working to reattach the blood vessels, tendons and nerves.
The driver spent the night in a medically induced coma but was woken by his doctors on Monday morning and spoke briefly to his family. He was able to move his fingers and there was no swelling or signs of infection, which his doctors said was "encouraging."
Despite the positive outcome, Rossello added that it would be impossible to say whether Kubica would ever regain the function needed to go back to F1 racing.
"We will see in one year what will be the function of the nerves," he said. "Drivers are always very special patients. I have a lot of motorbike patients and they heal in the fastest way possible, much faster than normal people."
With Kubica's return to the car in 2011 ruled out, several drivers may be in the running to replace him when the season starts next month in Bahrain. While the team has two reserve drivers in Bruno Senna, who drove for Hispania last year, and former Renault driver Romain Grosjean, they may be passed over for racers who have delivered better results, such as former BMW driver Nick Heidfeld, Force India third driver Nico Hulkenberg who raced for Williams in 2010, ex-Force India and Toro Rosso man Tonio Liuzzi, and Team Lotus driver Jarno Trulli, who drove for Renault from 2002 to 2004 and won the Monaco Grand Prix in his final season with the French team.
The loss of one of the sport's top talents is a huge blow for F1 and for the Renault team, which saw their No. 1 driver post the fastest time in the first test session of 2011 last week. Being near the front is nothing new to Kubica who seems to have an innate ability to squeeze speed from a race car, delivering results for his team that continue to defy the experts.
In 2010, he scored three podiums in a car that had no business being in the top five and added five more top-five finishes to end the season eighth overall in points. He scored 136 of his team's 163 points.
Kubica began his F1 career in 2006 with BMW Sauber as its Friday test driver before taking over the race seat vacated by Canadian Jacques Villeneuve when he fell out with the team after 12 of 18 races. The Polish driver made his debut in Hungary and scored his maiden podium in his third F1 start when he took third at the Italian Grand Prix on the legendary Monza Circuit.
He made headlines in Montreal a year later with a terrifying high-speed crash in the Canadian Grand Prix, where his car slammed into a retaining wall at about 300 kilometres per hour and then disintegrated as it somersaulted down the track. When the car finally came to a rest, Kubica was pulled from the tattered shell with only a sore ankle and a concussion. He missed the next stop in Indianapolis before racing again in France a month later.
A year after his crash in Montreal, Kubica returned to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and took the chequered flag, scoring his and BMW's first win in F1. He stayed with BMW until it left the sport at the end of 2009.
When BMW announced its decision to leave F1, several teams bid for his services before he narrowed it down to three and then signed a deal with Renault.
Kubica is also one of the more real and honest racers in the F1 paddock that increasingly sees drivers toe the corporate line rather than speak their minds. For example, he was openly angry with the BMW team when it decided to stop development on the 2008 car and start working on the next year following his win. Kubica felt he had a shot at the world championship and BMW should have gone for it, but the team instead announced it had attained its season goal of a win and therefore would shift its focus to 2009.
Just before the Canadian Grand Prix last year, Kubica signed a deal to extend his contract with Renault for another two seasons. At the time, he spoke about his simple outlook on life, something that will undoubtedly play a huge role as he recovers from his injuries and strives to get back into a racing car down the road.
"I'm a racing driver and what I love is racing," he said. "I am the kind of person who lives in the present, so I don't think about the future or the past. I just live day-by-day and I just concentrate the job I have to do."
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