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On this Day, in 2008: Robert Kubica became the first Polish driver to win an F1 Grand Prix

On June 8, 2008, Robert Kubica, the first and so far only Polish driver to compete in Formula One, took his maiden victory at the Canadian Grand Prix. He finished ahead of BMW Sauber teammate Nick Heidfeld and the Red Bull of David Coulthard, after Lewis Hamilton crashed out.

Robert Kubica, Poland’s first and only Formula One driver

A promising driver from an early age, Kraków-born Robert Kubica became the official test driver for the BMW Sauber team in 2006. Later that year, he stood in to replace an injured Jacques Villeneuve at the Hungarian Grand Prix and became Poland’s first ever F1 racing driver. For his maiden Grand Prix, Kubica suprisingly finishing seventh, but was later disqualified for having an underweight car.

Robert Kubica retained the seat for the remainder of the season, after the Jacques Villeneuve’s departure from the team. In his third race ar the Italian Grand Prix, Kubica finished in third position, and became the first Polish driver to appear on a F1 podium, as well as the first Polish driver to lead a Grand Prix. He was also the first driver since 1997 to finish on the podium within his first three starts.

The following season saw Robert Kubica turn into a championship contender, finishing consistently in point scoring positions. But at the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix, he survived an horrendous crash after his car clipped the barrier at 300 km/h. Suffering from a concussion, Kubica was replaced by test driver Sebastian Vettel for the following race and returned for the French Grand Prix, where he finished in fourth place.

A strong title challenger

After finishing sixth in the overall Drivers’ Championship in 2007, Robert Kubica began mounting a strong title challenge in 2008, qualifying and finishing strongly over the first half of the season, including his and BMW Sauber’s first pole position at the Bahrain Grand Prix and second-place finishes at the Malaysian and Monaco Grands Prix.

Twelve months after his crash in Montreal, Robert Kubica returned at the Canadian Grand Prix to claim his maiden F1 victory, finishing ahead of teammate Nick Heidfeld and the Red Bull of David Coulthard, after Lewis Hamilton crashed out. Poland’s first and so far only F1 victory promoted Kubica into the lead of the Drivers’ Championship for the first time in his career, overtaking Hamilton.

But BMW Sauber’s results were weaker over the second half of the season. And after only inishing on the podium at the Japanese, European and Italian Grand Prix, Robert Kubica finished the year fourth in the Drivers’ Championship, behind Lewis Hamilton, who became the youngest driver ever to win the title, Felipe Massa and Kimi Räikkönen. Robert Kubica was nonetheless named Polish Sports Personality of the Year.

Surviving a near-fatal crash

After a disappointing 2009 season, BMW announced that they would leave Formula One and Robert Kubica signed with Renault for the following seasons. But in February 2011, Robert Kubica was seriously injured in a near-fatal crash at the Ronde di Andora rally, in which he suffered partial amputation of his forearm, compound fractures to his right elbow, shoulder and leg, as well as significant loss of blood.

Robert Kubica underwent a seven-hour operation by seven doctors split into two teams before two more lengthy operations to repair fractures to his leg, shoulder and arm were performed successfully a few days later. He was however unable to start the season and Lotus signed his former BMW Sauber teammate Nick Heidfeld as his replacement.

Kubica only returned to racing in September 2012, winning a minor rally in Italy, and was named one of “The Men of the Year 2012” by Top Gear magazine for his return to auto racing. In 2013, he drove for Citroën in the European and World Rally-2 Championships, going on to win the inaugural WRC-2 title. He was also named FIA Personality of the Year in 2013.

Return to Formula One

In 2017, six years after his accident, it was announced that Kubica would be driving in a Renault-organized test at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in his first Formula One event since 2011. And after Felipe Massa announced his retirement from the sport later that year, Kubica became one of the top contenders to take his seat at Williams Martini Racing.

In January 2018, Robert Kubica finally took part in his first Grand Prix weekend since the final round of the 2010 campaign, in Friday’s first practice session at the 2018 Spanish Grand Prix, outperforming teammate Lance Stroll. And before the final round of the 2018 season, Williams announced that Kubica would race full-time for the team in 2019, partnering 2018 Formula 2 champion George Russell.

But Kubica ended a difficult season in 19th place in the championship with a single point and decided to leave the team. He moved across to the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters while maintaining a Formula One presence as reserve driver for Alfa Romeo, returning to the team he made his Formula One debut with in 2006, when it was still known as BMW Sauber.

Find out more about Central European history in our new On this Day series.

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