New World Man

While pondering Polish F1 star Robert Kubica’s Horrific Rally Crash this weekend, I am reminded of the new world of racing and how, once upon a time, it was not unusual for big-name race drivers to do numerous series’ in the course of a season. This has changed significantly over the years–and will further change based on the events of this past weekend.

From the BBC: “(Robert) Kubica crashed after his car hit a church wall as he approached the start of the Ronde di Andora rally and it was reported that his Formula 1 career could be at risk as a consequence of the injuries. The 26-year-old, who finished eighth in the drivers’ table last season, was in an induced coma overnight after seven hours of surgery before waking on Monday morning. ‘Kubica is conscious, he talks and understands what has happened,’ said Dr Giorgio Barabino. The 26-year-old’s right hand was partially severed and he suffered arm and leg fractures when he crashed during a rally in Italy on Sunday. ‘The doctors have said he has taken important steps forward,’ said Kubica’s agent Daniele Morelli. Renault team boss Eric Boullier says Robert Kubica will be out of action for “a couple of months” after partially severing his hand in a rally crash in Italy, and admits the team had agreed to let the F1 driver take part in rallying despite the risks involved.

For many years, hopping seats in a season was par for the course. Many names come to mind including Mario Andretti, who has won on just about anything on four wheels; Tony Stewart who was an IRL Champion before moving to the tin roofs–and would do the legendary Memorial Day 1100 (500 miles at Indy then 600 miles at Charlotte in a single day), as many drivers have. Then you consider guys like Brian Redman, Jackie Stewart, Denny Hulme, Bruce McLaren, Chris Amon who would come to America to race in the Can-Am/F5000 then race sports cars and F1 in Europe. When there was a conflict, the driver merely went with his default contract.

Two-time Can-Am Champ and Two Grand Prix winner, Patrick Tambay, recently told me that he was winning races in the Can-Am in 1977 for (Newman)/Haas Racing to finance his F1 endeavors. He attempted to Qualify for the French GP with Surtees, then spent the rest of the season with Maccau Developer and team-owner Teddy Yip, where he grabbed 2 top 5’s and a 6th from 8 races–launching his F1 hopes.

Then there were the unfortunates: Jimmy Clark, killed in a non-championship F2 race at Hockenheimring; Bruce McLaren, killed in a Goodwood Can-Am test; Pedro Rodriguez in a sports car race at the Norisring; numerous others join this tragic list.

It was reported at the end of last year’s F1 Championship that contender, Mark Webber was injured in his second bicycle accident, in as many years, in his native Australia. He, divulged this information to no one and actually raced with a broken shoulder for the last 3 rounds of the 2010 F1 WC. Needless to say, his teammate, Sebastien Vettel took the Championship as Webber folded.

As mentioned previously, Renault F1 Boss, Eric Boullier will deal with a contingency plan and is hopeful that his number one driver will make a return to the seat quickly–however there is already speculation in the media that Kubica is done for the season. Perhaps forever.

F1, like fame, beauty and the happiest moments, is fleeting. Stringently contracted stars know this. But racers are racers and will always be racers–if they aren’t doing 180 MPH with two wheels in the air and their pants on fire, life becomes pretty dull. Unfortunately there is not much wiggle room in $Million contracts.

Brian Redman, F1 driver, Sports Car and three time F5000 Champion said, “you look at Baseball, Football, Soccer in the last 40 years, you have pretty much the same game today. But motor racing is completely different from what it was.”

Indeed. No matter, whether it’s NASCAR, F1, DTM… The top drivers are bound to clauses that restrict their activities–even their diet and fitness regimen-to be assured that they will be on the grid on Sunday wearing the corporate colors and shaking hands with the customers.

I feel terrible for Robert Kubica, who incidentally has had some fairly narrow escapes (i.e. Canada 2007), and wish him a fast recovery, pray for the serenity of his family, and reminisce on when race drivers hopped seats in the once gilded age.

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