Opinion: the end of the road for two of Formula 1's stars?
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When the flag drops on the season-ending Grand Prix of 2019 at Abu Dhabi, it appears it will also drop on the F1 driving careers of two drivers.
One, Nico Hulkenberg, with the unenviable record of having the most race starts and never having managed a podium finish in his 10-year F1 career, may yet manage to inveigle a seat on the 2020 grid.
The other, Robert Kubica departs the grid after a season as the perennially slowest driver in the slowest car on the grid — a disapointing end to a career that once promised so much.
Perhaps that demonstrates how, in the modern era, it is so hard to make a comeback to this most elite form of the sport.
In Kubica’s case it was exponentially more difficult as he returned to the grid this year after an accident in 2011 that resulted in his right forearm being almost severed.
Other drivers have returned after serious injury, perhaps the most famous being Niki Lauda who won two World Championships after his horrific 1976 accident at the Nürburgring. Or Mika Häkkinen, who was close to death at the Australian Grand prix in 1995, only to come back to the cockpit the following year and win the title in both 1998 and 1999.
Comebacks that were not the wisest include a hero known to his fans in the UK as “Our Nige” — or Nigel Mansell.
After two relatively successful seasons driving for Ferrari, he became the Formula 1 Champion driving a Williams car in 1992 and the American IndyCar Champion in 1993 before returning for guest appearances during the 1994 F1 season. For the 1995 season he made yet another comeback driving for the new McLaren. Being a little over weight he couldn’t fit in the car. A replacement was made to accommodate his larger frame; but his comeback lasted only two races.
Meanwhile, Kubica has a comeback story worthy of a movie. He’s a Grand Prix-winning driver (Canada 2008) making a comeback by over-coming adversity, setbacks, injury and disabilities.
While he and the team maintain his restricted right arm movement makes no difference to his ability to drive F1, it cannot help.