Long, revealing interview with Robert Kubica. Some important thoughts about his commitment to rallying, maybe more people will understand what he is doing and why 🙂
You are in the middle of your second full season in a WRC car. At the beginning of your rally career you said that in order to gain experience at this level you need at least three seasons. Has your opinion changed by now?
Not really, I am still convinced that you need three full seasons in World Rally Championship, if you want to do it properly, if it is supposed to make sense. We have to remember that I come from a completely different world. Racing and rallying have very little in common and it is like comparing volleyball and basketball players. You can take one of the best volleyball players and let him play in NBA. Of course you can take some things from racing to rallying and vice versa, but the characteristic of these sports is completely different and the drivers have to develop in a slightly different way.
I asked about this rally experience because every winter there is a period of uncertainty: what will you do, will you stay in rallies or move to racing…
This is because now it is not possible for me to compete in rallies without money! Moreover, the WRC season ends very late and starts very early. Factory teams begin testing for Rallye Monte Carlo in December. This is life: to make a decision, first you need decisions of other people. There are many people involved and you have to put all pieces together before you can decide. This year it all happened very late and unfortunately it was not meant to be like this. We still suffer from some after-effects of this situation but there is no point to complain. You have to try to do the best job possible and slowly strive towards your goals, improving yourself.
Everything started in quite innocent way: I had an idea of competing in rallies. In truth it all began with desire to learn something new and have new challenges. In Formula 1 I always had my challenges and my targets. Unfortunately, after my accident I found myself in a slightly different situation. At all costs – because of my ambitious, competitive nature – I wanted to find a challenge, which in my view, would be equally or even more difficult than the one I had in Formula 1.
My decision to take part in rallies means that this challenge is enormous. I had to put in huge amount of time, work and risk. 2013 was my first year of rally competition. I drove in WRC-2 and managed to win the title in quite good style, but when it comes to driving… I thought I was performing well in gravel rallies. Only in 2014, when driving the same rallies again – and the results were even worse – I shook my head in disbelief and said to myself: “What the hell I was thinking about?” To me it seemed that I was doing a very good job on gravel but sometimes your impression has nothing to do with reality.
If you want to challenge the leaders, you have to arrange all pieces of this puzzle. Full WRC campaign, with sufficient preparation, costs a lot of money, so I have to thank Grupa Azoty, Grupa Lotos and all our partners who helped us to put together the programme for this year. The task is not easy, considering the general situation: my experience and my ambitions.
Little experience, big ambitions?
When it comes to rallies, I really don’t have any ambitions now. The only thing is that I want to drive in the best possible way.
So there is no pressure concerning your results?
It would be nice to score good results, but they are important only from one point of view. You cannot write a script or plan everything in rallies – just as in any other sport. It is cool, because everything can happen and you have to be in the right place at the right time – to put it bluntly, you have to stay on the road in order to take advantage of problems of other crews and get the result.
I think that today there are many more valuable things than the result itself – that one day you can achieve these results not because of mistakes or problems of your opponents, but thanks to your strength, experience and skill. This is why rallies can be very ungrateful because even the smallest error can cost you a lot. Over the whole distance of a rally each crew has some moments and if you are lucky and somehow manage to overcome them, then you reach the finish line and everything is cool. However, if you were not lucky and something happened to you, then the perception is totally different. It is either black or white, there is no tie or draw.
Today I should just drive to the finish and collect points. If other crews don’t have problems, I should be around 12th position. However, I want to see if I am able to learn this discipline to the extent that I would be able to match the top guys and compete with them in every rally, not only on some stages. Later, if I can reach this level, the right package will be essential: testing, competing in other rallies.
The other problem is that with less experience and starting only in those rallies, in which they compete, I take only one step at the time, not two. For sure they take a lot less experience from every stage, because they know them and they are familiar with this sport. In this respect 2013 season was definitely more interesting for me. I had a goal to reach, which was winning the WRC-2 championship, and then I could approach next few rallies as a test: I could do everything I wanted. There were seven rounds of WRC-2 with six results counting towards the championship, we won five times and once came second – so basically we score full points. I think that nobody else scored as many points and expectations became quite high. However, WRC is a completely different league. It is not just the level of the drivers, but their pace and possibilities. Suddenly it turns out that with the private WRC car you really cannot match them – or you can, but it becomes really risky.
For me, the biggest advantage of all this is that today I remember when I did recce and after each special stage I had one hundred question marks in my head: you know, that place over there, that jump – jeez, what will happen there? On the track everything was planned and under control. Now I have better rally feeling, I am not afraid of all those places. I do not underestimate them, I just know what is going to happen. There are much fewer surprises, much fewer ruminations. I drive more in a rally way, there is more improvisation.
One more thing: when I asked Krzysiek [Holowczyc, multiple Polish Rally Champion and 1997 European Rally Champion] about one new stage of Rally Poland, if he knows it – he said he knows it by heart. He drove it so many times. This is a totally different story, it gives you great comfort. As you drive the stage, you know exactly that this corner is slippery because every year it was slippery, the next one has grip but you have to be careful because two corners later it gets slippery again. The risk is considerably smaller, it is easier to maintain control and avoid problems. But you need time, patience and also possibilities for this.
You said that for you it is important to verify if one day you would be able to fight with the top guys. Is everything going in the right direction?
For example in 2013 I drove really exceptionally two days on tarmac in Spain. I think that Citroen is perfect for driving on asphalt, it was just great. If we calculated the difference between the WRC and RRC car, it could turn out that even driving this rally for the first time, I had a good pace. I had a very good car at the end of the season. In terms of driving Spain is the most “circuit” rally, the car responded well and Citroen is more racing than rally car. But I never thought that also on gravel I would be able to drive close to the frontrunners. For example last year in Sardinia there were stages on which I was very close to the top and only I know how much time I lost because of gearshift system, which was not performing in a great way. My driving on gravel has improved and there is light at the end of the tunnel. We will see how the situation unfolds.
I remember an interview from 2010, when you were only watching rallies, in which you compared Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz. Colin was famous for his spectacular driving style but he crashed a lot. On the other hand Sainz was more effective. Now some people compare you to Colin, but maybe Carlos’ times will come?
Carlos or not, everything depends on your priorities and goals. I am in a much different situation than Colin ever was, because he started to compete in World Rally Championship after competing in many other rallies…
…and after crashing a lot of cars.
I don’t know, I was not interested in rallies then. It is easy to say and judge from the outside and I am not saying that to defend Colin or myself, because you cannot argue with some certain facts. On the other hand there are many factors in every rally. The rhythm in World Rally Championship is very high – maybe too high, because many crews, except maybe for one or two, have some moments and problems. Somebody takes third place in the rally and then on YouTube you see him off the road three times. Once he missed a wall by ten centimetres, doing 100 km/h, then flew over a ditch and finally hit the same rock which you also hit – but you tore off your rear suspension and he just drove on. So you start to wonder: what is it all about? Is it just good luck and bad luck? I always say that there is no bad luck in motorsport.
If you finish the rally, then everything is nice and cool, but at the same time you could have crashed into the wall which you barely avoided. I always say that it is just like playing cards: you need four jokers for one rally. If you have them and if you use them, than you are able to reach the finish, driving or trying to drive with the pace of the leaders. If you are actually keeping this pace – this is another story but at least you are trying.
But points are awarded at the finish.
Of course you have to drive in a different way if you want to score as many points as it is possible over the course of the season. But if you ever want to compete with the frontrunners, you have to try and drive like them, because otherwise you will never know how they drive, how much effort you need and how much you can risk.
„Risk” is not a good word because we never say: „OK, now we go maximum attack, one hundred percent”, fasten firmly the belts and whatever will be, will be. At least I have never started the stage with such attitude. Of course sometimes you go faster, sometimes you go slower, but it is ironic that I made mistakes while driving a lot slower, because these cars are not designed to drive at low pace. Everything has to work: tyres, suspension, shock absorbers, diffs. With a little experience there is no difference whether you go one or two seconds slower per kilometre. Of course slower pace means that it is easier to catch the car if something goes wrong but on the other hand it does not mean that there are fewer moments and the chance that something will happen is exactly the same.
It is not a secret that your car is not the fastest one in WRC field. Looking at Daniel Ricciardo, who drove for HRT and Toro Rosso and then in Red Bull he beat Sebastian Vettel, who was used to driving excellent cars, do you think that in the future these lessons with difficult car could help you?
They might, although it is hard to say, because nobody knows what can happen in the future. For sure the best car gives you more comfort. I think that the car does not drive by itself but it can help the driver with the comfort and confidence. If you know that even with bad driving on a stage you will be fifth or sixth quickest, then it is much easier than in a situation when you know that even if you drive the wheels off the car, you will be sixth anyway.
I think that if my only goal was just to get the results, for sure I could be a more consistent driver. But I will not be at the level of sixth place – unless there are seven or eight failures, like in Sardinia, where everybody who crawled to the finish line scored big points. For sure I have more personal satisfaction after a solid rally, like in Portugal. I was ninth, but with the same gap to the leaders I would be third in Sardinia. These things are difficult to see from the outside, but the driver and people around him know it very well.
The time will come – I don’t know it for sure, but let’s hope so – when I am able to focus and I will be strong enough to concentrate just on the results and drive as I like it. Then we could assess if in the long-term I would be able to compete at the front and maintain this level in all rallies. Everyone forgets that every round of the World Championship is a different story. It is as if you went to the cinema and watch a comedy, later horror, war movie and cartoons. Each rally has a different characteristics, so the experience is not cumulating. We can learn a lot during Rally Poland but maybe 20% of this experience will be used in Finland. You have to wait until next year and if the organiser decides to change 80% of the route, then you start all over again. It is easier for those with bigger experience and you have to catch up again.
You need a factory seat in order to fight for the highest goals…
Let’s say that with my incidents I will not get an offer from any factory team! Let’s keep the feet on the ground 🙂 Private team has never won and will never win, this is very simple. Maybe some special stages, just like we did this year, but in a long term you even cannot get in the fight.
But this moment has to come…
Has or hasn’t, we will see. For sure I will try to improve as a driver, so that when I feel strong enough, I could get in the right place at the right time. You always have to strive for the best in your discipline, become better and better. It can boost your chances. I was lucky, because I reached Formula 1 and it opened me a door to five seasons in F1, in my opinion at quite good level. Some of my seasons were close to perfection but if I had not found myself in the right place at the right time, maybe nobody would remember me, because before F1 I had driven in Formula 3 and who would remember it now…
Do you feel like a rally driver, rather than a racing driver now?
I still feel a racing driver because I grew up as a racing driver. I am getting closer to being a rally driver but this is another kettle of fish. This can bring me profits in the future: when finally I get behind the steering wheel of a rally car and feel as natural as when I drink water. For me it is very important: everything has to be more natural.
Do you sometimes think about driving on the track?
Sometimes I drive. The problem with the track is that I know how I had driven before the accident, when I was – let’s put it this way – “one hundred percent”. After the accident, on three or four occasions when I drove on the track or in the simulator at some point I started to wonder if it is possible that I drive faster than before. It is rather impossible, but generally little has changed in terms of speed. Of course now I have some limitations and automatically I was pissed off because I knew how I had driven on the track before, without these limitations. I had never driven in rallies on the high level, in these cars and on these stages. This is why I don’t know how it would be without my limitations. One thing I know for sure: it would be easier.
So making everything more natural is essential for me. Only then I could take my limitations into account and now there are too many things which can surprise me and make my task harder. Having more things out of control means that it is easier to get into trouble.
Is there any improvement when it comes to your limitations?
In everyday life nothing has changed because I did not have any surgeries. Let’s say that it was put aside. When it comes to driving a rally car, it is now much easier. In Portugal there were stages with many ruts. Such sections have always been hard for me, but this time I was happy because I knew that last year I had lost much more time on these sections. I still lose a lot and this is normal, as in such places a lot of things can happen and you are not able to prepare: you drive in deep ruts and you don’t know what will happen with the rear of the car, whether it will catch or not. On these stages I have to risk more if I want to keep the pace of the leaders. I don’t risk more because I want to, but the risk comes automatically with my limitations. A year or two ago I lifted more in such places and now I feel maybe not assured, but less surprised and less afraid of them. Probably there is nothing worse than doing something which you don’t control. You have to take it into account.
Do not you think in motorsport – in rallies and racing – we lack strong personalities? There are few drivers who say what they think, not what they are told to say. Like you or Kris Meeke in rallies…
We have to appreciate all drivers and respect them because they deserve it. When I said something in Formula 1, some people applauded it and at the same time you were told off by others for exactly the same words. It is difficult to say anything which would make everyone happy. If you are in a factory team, interviews are never easy because on the one hand you are heavily restricted and on the other hand you can’t say nothing.
If you can’t say what you think and you have to follow the guidelines, then it is difficult to be a star and say what you want to say. It is not just about speaking frankly and bluntly. Nowadays criticism is simply not welcome.
You see, even today at the press conference [before Rally Poland]… Here nobody has understood that in 2013 very few people had the so-called guts to tell what it really looked like: fans were standing in knee-deep mud. It was not about me, because I spent 20 minutes in the service park, but rally fans with small children were standing there for three hours. Everybody said that I was complaining – and I just said what I saw.
I am glad because now, two years later, those people can come here and even if it rains cats and dogs, they can stand on concrete pavement. I am satisfied because I think that you should respect people who come with their families for the weekend and give them a chance to watch in reasonable conditions one of the most important events in Poland – not only in sport, but in general.
It was constructive criticism and I’m glad because I said what it looked like and now we can see the improvements. Many people thought the same but were afraid to speak or preferred to think about themselves only. The problem was that it was impossible to walk to the fans, to give them autographs. I went into this mud and when I wanted to move by half meter, I lost both shoes. The competitors couldn’t get there in their rally boots and the fans were disappointed.
I think I did a lot of good things for Rally Poland. During this weekend we are in the same boat. When somebody stays only in Golebiewski Hotel [rally HQ] and his shoes are always nice and clean, it does not mean that everything is perfect. Somebody who even did not bother to go and check how it was – but it is obvious that the media always chase the stories. It was the same now with Warminski Rally [short event before Rally Poland]: I said only once that I would like to do a rally before Rally Poland. I deliberately did not mention the name of the event but everybody in Poland concluded that I would take part in Warminski Rally. Everybody added his own words and made up the whole story.
Speaking of criticism…
No, no – that was only half-joking! Add a smiley there, otherwise it will start all over again [OK, here it goes: 😉 ]. For example I think that last year Rally Poland was a good event but nobody wrote about it because it does not make a great headline if Kubica says that the organisers did a good job. They did and it needs to be said. If anything goes wrong, it also needs to be said for the sake of our sport. In my opinion it is better when we have a rally in World Championship. In 2013 it was not a round of WRC and I’ll bet that if in 2013 we had had WRC teams and FIA people here, then we would not have had WRC round in 2014. The weather helped to rectify some shortcomings and it was a good thing. Simple?
Yes, so coming back to criticism… Do you watch F1? It is kind of fashionable to criticise F1 now.
Hardly, because I am pretty busy. As a rule, people tend to criticise when the same guys are winning.
But it is the same in rallies: Now Volkswagen and Ogier, Citroen and Loeb before that…
The rally cars do not compete head to head. Rallying is appreciated for other reasons than racing. Racing is all about contact, fight. Everybody can see that for example one car is faster on the straight by 10 km/h than the other. In rallies you don’t see that, although in reality it is more or less the same. The thing is, that it is much harder to get such information, it is not so obvious for the fans. For them these two disciplines are totally different. We can argue for hours which is better for the fans and for the drivers. It depends on your preferences. Some people prefer this, some people prefer that. But we can agree that these two disciplines have very little in common. Someone enjoys the dust and two-hour trek to find a nice watching spot, where he can set up a barbecue and sit there for the whole day – there are many passionate rally fans – and you can’t do this on a racing circuit because it would be quite difficult to have a barbecue on a Gold Grandstand 🙂
I wonder if the Polish fans complain about current state of F1 because they miss… you know…
…Because they miss Kubica! But there were so many successors 😀 [the usual catchphrase in Polish media about any young karting or racing driver: „the next Kubica”] I think that Formula 1 is a bit less attractive – but I don’t say that it is not attractive at all – because it is slower now. The opening laps are slower by about eight seconds. I think that in 2008, in the same race with the same number of laps, total race time was shorter by some eight minutes. On the other hand I remember that last year in Singapore a few young drivers had problems. Singapore is a real hardcore but because the pace is now slower, driving is less physical and it turns out that on really demanding circuits the drivers are not prepared. Not so long ago, with refuelling, the race consisted of sprint stints and we drove faster. In those times when you did three days of testing and towards the end you were really exhausted, it was enough to slow down by three tenths per lap to get some relief. Just three tenths!
I think that the Polish fans wouldn’t complain so much, but the thing is that they miss Kubica in F1…
And Kubica also misses Formula 1. Let’s put it bluntly. Tough but this is life.
Is there still any hope?
A hope never dies 🙂 But you have to be realistic. If someone told me: „Robert, at the beginning of the next season you will race at Monza”, then I can lose 10 kilograms, which unfortunately I gained – well, easily six or seven, no problem – and I would race. I think I would do a good job but I know that I would not be able to compete in some races, on some circuits. At the beginning of this interview I said a very important thing and I think many people miss the point. After the accident I found myself in a situation in which I needed new goals. New ones because I know that I am not able to achieve my previous goals and the new ones have to replace the goals which for now are unfortunately beyond my reach…
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